Stress Effects on the Body

 

Stress effects on the body are myriad. Our body responds to any stressful stimulus by initiating about 1400 different activities including the dumping of a variety of chemical mediators into our blood stream. Imagine this happening on a regular basis!

 

Stress is indeed a “Proxy Killer” as most of the time stress goes unnoticed and other secondary causes( which had been probably induced, sustained and aggravated by stress) like heart attack, blood pressure or even cancer take the blame for the person’s ill-health and eventual death.....

 

Psycho-neuro-immunology has grown in leaps and bounds during the last two decades and our knowledge of the various stress effects on the body has also grown proportionally.

 

A. The automatic physiological stress effects on the body is known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS):

 

GAS has three stages:

1. The Stage of Stress Alarm Reaction
2. The Stage of Stress Resistance
3. The Stage of Stress Exhaustion



1.The Stage of Stress Alarm Reaction : The initial stress effect on the body. 

 

This is also known as the 'fight or flight' response. As soon as our body is faced with a stressful situation, our body explodes with a sudden surge of energy with flooding of hundreds of hormones and chemical activators into the blood stream. We become alert and ready to meet any threat.

 

The main players at this stage are heart, lungs, brain, nervous system and the muscles, all stimulated by the release of hormones. Arousal is initiated by hypothalamus by release of endorphins, the natural painkillers. At the same time, adrenaline is secreted by the adrenal glands. Adrenaline causes palpitations, increased blood pressure and release of vital nutrients. It also causes muscle tension and makes breathing faster and shallower.

 

Nor-adrenaline is also secreted, and is associated with positive ecstatic arousal. Another hormone, Cortisol, converts glycogen stored in the liver into blood sugar, thus stimulating the brain and whole body with instant energy.

 

In males, the hormone Testosterone is released, and provides the required surge of strength. Thyroxin, released by thyroid gland, stimulates the metabolic system and regulates the oxygen consumption. Our digestive system slows down, as blood is diverted to essential organs required to meet the immediate threat. Thus the stress alarm reaction puts the body in the fight or flight mode.



2.The Stage Of Stress Resistance: Response to stress effect on the body cont'd...

 

Once the alarm reaction is established and the immediate threat is over, the body moves onto a stress resistance phase, where the bodily functions put on alert are reverted back to a near normal state. The heart rate, respiratory rate and metabolic activities come down to a maintenance level; the body is still ready and alert.

 

More cortisol, thyroxin etc are released to speed up the tissue repair, which may have been damaged during stress. This is the stage of stress resistance.

3. The Stage Of Stress Exhaustion : Stress effect on the body turns harmful.

 

Emotions such as anger, anxiety and impatience etc are continuous stress stimulators, and without our knowledge, our body is put in (and stays in!) a 'fight' mode. Overdose of adrenaline often causes irritability and uneasiness. Nor-adrenaline excess makes us feel disconnected and high.

 

Too much of cortisol will suppress the immune system, making us vulnerable to a host of diseases. Extra sodium is retained, affecting the cardiovascular and excretory systems adversely.

 

Thus our body goes into stress exhaustion and breakdown due to the side effects of continuous, uncontrolled stress. Emotionally, we are depressed, anxious, disoriented, insecure and frustrated. If this situation is allowed to proceed unchecked; family breakdown, mental illness, work absence,  alcoholism or drug dependency gradually step in to further complicate the stress condition.

 

These stages occur on their own, though the intensity may vary depending upon our coping capabilities.

 

B. At the conscious level, psychologists say we respond to stress in two major levels:

1. Primary appraisal:

  • Decide if the situation is threatening

  • Evaluate our  internal and external resources to deal with the problem

  • Choose what to do

Thus we do something to limit the impact of the stress.

 

2. Secondary appraisal: 

  • Evaluation of our efforts to deal with the stressful situation: has it worked?

  • Continued appraisal till the threat is no longer present or felt.

    We are likely to feel less stress if we feel competent to deal with any given situation. We are likely to feel more stress if we feel it over our heads. Illness, tiredness and drug or alcohol addiction can also increase our stress over situations that we might otherwise take in a stride.

 

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