Stress affects us mentally, emotionally, and physically. It’s actually a rather complex process and there are still many unknowns regarding stress including the physiological effects of stress. What do we mean by physiological?
Physiology is a science. Human physiology has a wide scope that includes the processes that go on within cells; how tissues and organs work; and also how we respond to the environment. Therefore, human physiological processes are the functions of living persons and their parts, and the physical and chemical factors and processes involved.
Bottom line is that in this article, we’ll focus on how stress affects your physical health, or the physiological effects of stress. Stress doesn’t just happen and then disappear. It has a lingering effect on you. It alters your body and your brain.
The effect on your brain (which leads to impacts on your body) is analogous to an allergy. Your body becomes sensitized to stress. Then, the slightest hint of a stressful event can trigger a slew of chemical reactions in your brain and body that assault you from within.
And we all have the capacity to become sensitized to stress. The danger is that when the brain is sensitized, it re-circuits itself in response to stress. You may think you’re not getting all that worked up over missing the commuter train. But your brain is treating it like a life-threatening situation.
This intense over-activity means slugs of bio-chemicals are being unleashed by stress even at the most trivial of events. Your physical brain patterns have been altered. Therefore, in the future you respond differently. You may produce too many excitatory chemicals or too fee calming ones. Your brain is responding inappropriately.
In other words, stress itself alters your ability to cope with stress!
The result? When stresses become routine, the constant biological pounding takes its toll on the body; the system starts to wear out at an accelerated rate. This is anything BUT good news!
The physiological effects of stress vary from one individual to another regardless of whether you’ve yet been sensitized to stress or not. Mounting evidence strongly suggests that the same chemicals being released in response to stress are triggering physical reactions throughout the body. The potential impact on the body ranges from relatively minor to deadly.
When stress triggers the adrenal glands they manufacture and release the true stress hormones (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and especially cortisol). The body is so responsive to adrenal hormones that basic body functions like blood flow and breathing are significantly altered by even minute changes in these chemicals resulting in significant impacts on health.
Potential impacts include higher blood pressure; diabetes; and asthma. If the adrenal gland slacks off on cortisol production the result may be obesity, heart disease, or osteoporosis; too much of the hormone can cause women to take on masculine traits like hair growth and muscle development or baldness in men. High levels of cortisol also may kill off brain cells crucial for memory.
More physiological effects of stress are a sudden surge in blood sugar or heart rate. The problem is the stress system is actually responsible for coordinating much more than just our response to stress. These chemicals and hormones direct everything from the immune system to the cardiovascular system to our behavioral system.
For example, cortisol directly impacts short-term memory. The stress hormones dopamine and epinephrine are also neurotransmitters widely active in enabling communication among brain cells. Stress also alters serotonin pathways which links stress with depression on one hand, aggression on the other.
Stress can also affect the organs, immune system, metabolic system, and even the sexual response system. Other “conditions” include irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety, gastric problems, stroke, substance abuse, possibly cancer, sleep disorders, headaches, uncontrollable bouts of crying, skin allergies, acne, altered metabolism, more susceptible to colds and flu, and various body aches.
Stress also directly affects a part of the nervous system that controls the glands, heart, digestive system, respiratory system, and skin. This means any pre-existing medical condition influenced by a nervous system response such as chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, digestive disorders, or headaches is likely to become exacerbated by stress when the already overworked system becomes overloaded by additional stress.
If you take more time to learn about the physiological effects of stress you may be able to explore more effective ways to create a wall of deflection. Stress will always be present in our lives but it doesn’t have to be life threatening.