Stress is a normal part of life- we all know too well- and it can even be a terrific motivator for us to get things done. However, there are times when stress levels can become too high for even the most easygoing of people to handle. Having effective tools for stress management can significantly improve the quality of your life.
Stress can be psychological or physical in origin, and the overall level of stress that a person is experiencing at any given time is dependent on each of these factors. Identifying and managing stressors at all levels is an important part of complete health, as stress can manifest itself as anything from indigestion to chronic health concerns like autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Stress affects the body in many ways! More than people probably realize. A little bit of stress is a good thing; a healthy stress response helps us get through life and can even be fun. Situations like challenging games, first kisses, and roller coaster rides can all be stressful and pleasant at the same time. Say a tiger was chasing you: it might not be pleasant, but the rush of adrenaline that helps you fight, run away, or freeze might save your life. However, when stress levels are high all the time, or when we experience fight-or-flight reactions to imaginary fears, it can be unhealthy.
The fight-or-flight response is the classic way that we describe the sympathetic nervous system. When this part of the nervous system is activated, many things happen in the body that allow for potentially life-saving actions to occur, and quickly. Our blood pressure rises and blood moves to our core, our pupils dilate, and our heart rate increases. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, is released from the adrenal glands, which helps maintain this active state.
Over time, when the stress response is constantly engaged, and cortisol levels are constantly high, the body can’t help but respond with illness. High blood pressure can be a direct effect of constant stress, which increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Cortisol also suppresses the immune system, allowing other chronic illnesses to develop: wounds take longer to heal, people feel more tired, more belly weight is kept on, and mood concerns like depression and anxiety are more common.