We all know the effects of stress on health and wellbeing because we experience them. We can’t always predict when they’re going to hit us, though, or how hard. Sometimes we can’t even predict what’s going to make us feel stressed out in the first place. What we sail through on one occasion can derail us on another.
In an article on stress on health and wellbeing, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that stress is a feeling of tension that can come from any thought or event that provokes feelings of anger, frustration or nervousness. It’s your body’s response to a challenge or demand. The Mental Health Foundation adds that it’s common to feel stress when we experience something unexpected, new or threatening to our sense of self. It can also pop up when we feel we don’t have control.
Why Does Stress Effect Our Health and Wellbeing?
How we deal with stress is based partly on how we interpret a situation. If we think a stick is a snake, we’ll react differently than if we perceive it as just a stick. All sorts of other factors come into play as well, including the following:
To some degree, we inherit the way we react to stressful situations. The journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience published a study on genes and stress that found genes related to our sympathetic nervous system and to the HPA axis that are associated with an altered stress response.
Where we spend our time matters. Your home or office building can help calm your nervous system or rev it up. An article on environment and mental health points out that crowds and loud noises can increase cortisol, one of the most important stress hormones. Other important environmental factors are levels of natural light, clutter and chemical exposures.
A handful of personality characteristics have been associated with how well we deal with stress. Scientific Reports notes that different parts of our personality are associated with different aspects of the stress response. Extraversion and openness are both associated with a lower level of cortisol activation when people encounter stressful situations.
Whether or not we view the world as basically a safe place is based a great deal on our early experiences. Traumatic events, either in childhood or adulthood, are especially important. A report on the effects of traumatic stress on the brain notes that trauma can cause lasting changes. Because of them, when people experience future stressful events, they may have a heightened response, with higher levels of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.
Diet and nutritional status
When we don’t eat well, we don’t have the biological fuel we need to combat stress effectively. The Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences notes that we need more energy, oxygen and circulation when we’re stressed, which requires a nutrient-dense diet. Many different vitamins can be helpful, but the B vitamins seem especially important, with some of them helping to regulate norepinephrine and other stress-related body chemicals.
Sleep and stress are very closely linked. When we don’t sleep, it causes us stress, and when we’re stressed, we don’t sleep. Banner Health reports that lack of sleep makes our bodies release more cortisol.
In an article entitled “The Role of Exercise in Stress Management,” the American College of Sports Medicine reports that exercise improves how we handle stress by changing hormone responses and affecting brain chemicals.
The Effects of Long-Term Stress on the Body
The body’s response to stress is designed to help us address whatever we feel threatened by. We produce chemical messengers that prepare us to fight or run away. We become more alert, and our muscles become tense and ready to act.
When we have an episode of brief, acute stress, like when we see a car coming toward us, or our child is too close to the edge of a cliff, these body chemicals can be very helpful and help us avert disaster. On the other hand, we often live with chronic, prolonged stress. Long-term stress is caused by things like relationship struggles, work demands or financial pressures. Our body keeps producing chemicals to help us fight. But what’s helpful in the short term can be harmful over time.
These are some of the ways that stress affects our physical health.
We get more headaches
Headaches can have multiple causes, and stress can contribute to many of them. Stress causes muscle tension, for example, and tense muscles in the neck, shoulders, jaw or scalp can cause headache pain.
Stress can also cause insomnia, and that can also contribute to headaches. A Healthline article on headaches and sleep notes that when people don’t sleep well, they produce more proteins that cause chronic pain.
We experience an upset stomach
It’s not surprising that stress can cause an upset stomach because there’s a direct connection between the brain and the GI tract. This is what’s known as the gut-brain axis. One of the most important parts of this axis is the vagus nerve. This is a large nerve that sends signals in both directions, from the brain to the gut and vice versa. These signals travel quickly, so stress can cause digestive issues almost immediately.
We develop high blood pressure
When your brain tells your body to be prepared to fight or flee, it increases your heart rate and narrows your blood vessels, causing your blood pressure to rise. The Mayo Clinic reports that stress can increase blood pressure and that ideally when the stressful situation passes, it returns to normal. Unfortunately, even temporary blood pressure spikes can damage your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.
Our immune system weakens
Cortisol, which we produce under stress, helps us by making the body’s fuel supply more available. If cortisol levels stay high for too long, it begins to break down our muscles and suppress the immune system. We become more likely to catch a cold or another infection, and it takes us longer to recover.
We have a decreased sex drive and poor reproductive health
As is the case with digestion, when the body is under stress, it doesn’t consider the reproductive system to be an essential player in getting through the crisis. So it turns it down to use resources in other body systems. A Science Daily report on stress and the reproductive system explains that this is due to the way that hormones are affected by stress and interact with each other. Cortisol inhibits the body’s main sex hormone, which suppresses sexual interest, sperm count and ovulation.
Get Help With the Effect of Stress on Health
Sometimes the best way to control the effects of stress on health and wellbeing is to take a complete break from your everyday routine. And let professionals help you reset your life. We can do that for you. Give us a call at 1.844.675.1022, and let today be the beginning of a new chapter in your life.