We have all experienced moments of stress in our lives. When something unexpected or alarming happens, a part of your brain, the hypothalamus, sets off an internal alarm. This alarm signals your adrenal glands to release hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, into your nervous system that cause your heart rate to increase, your muscles to tense and your breath to quicken. This is referred to as your fight or flight response, and your body is ready to take action to protect itself from harm.
During periods of stress, we often don’t associate changes in our health, including difficulty sleeping or headaches with our mental health. However, stress can have a very real impact on the way your body functions and your overall health.
Your Body’s Response to Stress
Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems
- Your sympathetic nervous system signals your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that play a vital role in preparing your body to respond in an emergency. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and boosts your energy. Cortisol is responsible for increasing blood sugar, supporting your brain’s efficient use of glucose and stimulating tissue repair. Cortisol also sends signals to the parts of your brain that control your emotions including your mood, motivation and fear.
- Stress hormones cause muscles to tense and prepare to guard you from injury or harm.
- Stress causes your blood vessels to constrict, sending more oxygen to your muscles.
- Your breathing may accelerate during stressful events, allowing your body to deliver oxygen-rich blood throughout your body quickly.
- Your energy level increases as your liver responds by releasing more blood sugar into your bloodstream.
Physical Symptoms of Stress in Your Body
- Once the stressful event or perceived threat has passed, your hormone levels will return to normal. If chronic stressors are not addressed, your fight-or-flight response will remain activated. Unmanaged, prolonged periods of stress and increased levels of stress hormones within your body put you at an increased risk of several health issues, including anxiety and depression
- Digestive issues, like acid reflux and/or heartburn
- Elevated blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Muscle tension and/or pain
- Sleep issues, like insomnia
- Weakened immune system
Tools to Help Manage Everyday Stress
Learning to manage stress can have a lasting impact on both your mental well-being and your physical health. Lifestyle modifications and stress management tools can help you to manage your stress, such as:
- Eating a balanced diet
- Getting adequate sleep
- Regular physical activity
- Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mediation or yoga
- Taking time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
Stress is an inevitable part of life, however, chronic stress is harmful to your health and mental well-being. If you have taken steps to lessen your stress and your symptoms continue, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. For information on our locations and physicians, please visit our website at www.dupagemedicalgroup.com.