Trying to burn the midnight oil and get more done than you have time to do?
Stress is a feeling we all experience when we are challenged or overwhelmed. But more than just an emotion, stress is a hardwired physical response that travels throughout your entire body. In the short run, stress can be advantageous.
But when activated too often and for too long, your primitive fight or flight response not only changes the way it reacts in your brain, but also damages many of the other organs and tissues in your body.
Your adrenal glands releases stress hormones called cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. As these hormones travel through your blood stream, they can easily reach your heart, causing it to beat faster and harder. As a result, your blood pressure will spike and may lead to the development of hypertension over time.
Cortisol can also cause the inner lining of your blood vessels to not function normally. Scientists now know that this is an early step in triggering atherosclerosis, the process in which cholesterol plaques are deposited in the inner linings of your arteries.
These collective changes can potentially increase your risk for heart attack or stroke. When your brain senses stress, it activates your autonomic nervous system. Through this network of neuronal connections, your brain communicates to your intestinal nervous system.
Besides causing butterflies in your stomach, this brain-gut connection can disrupt the natural rhythmic contractions that move food to your gut, leading to irritable bowel syndrome and can increase your gut sensitivity to acid, making you more likely to experience heartburn.
Through the gut nervous system, stress can also change the composition and function of your gut bacteria, which may have a negative impact to your digestion and overall health.
Speaking of digestion, does chronic stress affect your waist line?
Well…yes, because cortisol can increase your appetite. It tells your body to replenish your energy stores with caloric dense food and carbohydrates, causing you to crave sugary food. Besides that, high level of cortisol can also cause you to put on those extra calories as a deep belly fat.
This type of fat doesn’t just make it harder to button up your pants, these tissues can actively release hormones and immune system chemicals called cytokines that can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart attack or diabetes.
Meanwhile stress hormones affect immune cells in a variety of ways. Initially, they help prepare to fight foreign substances and heal after injury. But chronic stress can dampen the function of some immune cells, making you more susceptible for infections and slow down the rate you heal.
To live a long life, you need to manage your stress to an optimal level. That’s because it has even been associated to shorter telomeres, the shoe-laced tip ends of chromosomes that measure a cell’s age. Telomeres cap chromosomes to allow DNA to get copied a cell divides without damaging the cell’s genetic code. It shortens with each cell division. When the telomeres become too short, a cell can no longer divide and it dies.
As if all that were not enough, chronic stress has even more ways to sabotage your health, including causing acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, headache, fatigue, difficulty in concentration and irritability.
So what does this all mean for you?
Your life will always be filled with stressful situations. But what matters to your brain and entire body is how you respond to that stress. If you can view those situations as challenges that are within your control, rather than threats that are insurmountable, you can perform better in the short run and stay healthy in the long run.