Stress. We all have it.
It is normal and natural to experience. To a degree.
We are equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when it becomes chronic or long-term, we can experience serious effects on our body. Stress impacts all the systems of the body including the musculoskeltal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous AND reproductive systems.
Under stress, our muscles tense up, guarding us against injury and pain. Our muscles release this tension when stress is gone. When chronic stress is present, the muscles become more constant in a guarded state. Holding the muscles long-term can create other reactions in the body, such as headaches, low back and more.
The respiratory system supplies oxygen to our cells and removes carbon dioxide waste from the body. Circulation of red blood cells is important for our lungs. However, stress and strong emotions can be present with respiratory symptoms, such as either rapid breathing or shortness of breath. Studies have shown that acute stress can actually rigger asthma attacks!
Our cardiovascular system is comprised of the heart and blood vessels. They work together to provide nourishment and oxygen to the organs within the body. The blood vessels constrict and the heart dilates under stress, elevating blood pressure. When we are under a deadline or in traffic, these stresses help give us messages and we return to a normal state, although chronic stress, or constant stress experienced over a long period of time, can impact the heart and blood vessels, including heart rate, elevated stress hormones and blood pressure, which increases risks for hypertension, heart attack or stroke. Inflammation in the circulatory system can also impact coronary arteries and affect cholesterol levels.
Our endocrine system is impacted by the brain’s responses to something challenging, threatening or intolerable. This can result in the production of cortisol, which is known as the “stress hormone.” The hypothalamus talks to the pituitary glands to produce hormones, and signals the adrenal glands. This system is what impacts our immune system and inflammation as well as also being linked to the development of a number of physical and mental health conditions, including chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, and obesity, ,depression and immune disorders.
The gastrointestinal system has hundreds of million neurons that communicate with the brain.Stress can impact the communication between the two, and can trigger pain, bloating, and other issues that influence health and your ability to think. The changes in gut bacteria influence mood, nerves and bacteria.
The nervous system has a number of divisions, the central division involving the brain and spinal cord and consists of the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. The stress signals to the adrenal glands to release hormones and cortisol. The autonomic nervous system causes the heart to beat faster, respiration to increase, blood vessels to dilate, and digestive process to change.
Our hormonal systems also are impacted, both in males and females. Changes in female cycles, infections, reproduction functioning and more. Chronic stress can also lead to diseases of the reproductive system.
Next, we will talk more about the ways to to manage our stress. (see part 2!)