Stress: The Physical Dangers

A Stressful Life Can Cause Serious Health Problems

Stress is the ultimate proof of the mind-body connection.

Your mind perceives the stress; your body reacts to it in physically. In fact, there really isn't a part of your body that isn't affected by stress.

Stress, by its very nature, starts with the brain. Your body reacts like a roller coaster to the anxiety. It takes you up – fast. And then brings you crashing down – just as fast.

Your perceived level of threat stimulates a surge of hormones which is the cause of the heightened state of alertness which accompanies the stress. That's why, very often, you find you can neither sleep nor relax while you're in this state.

But, since your body can't continue in this hyper-mode for a long time, you soon find that once the hormone level subsides, you are brought back down. This is when you experience the headaches, moodiness, memory loss, inability to concentrate and, at times, even aggressive behavior.

It's well known that stress suppresses and weakens your immune system, your first line of defense against colds, the flu, and other health issues. Your reaction to stress lowers your body's white blood cell count which reduces your system's ability to heal itself.

Without a doubt, the most widely researched effects of stress on the body deal with the heart. It has been widely publicized that more heart attacks occur at the beginning of the work week Monday than any other day of the week. As an interesting side note, many of those heart attacks occur in the parking lot of the person's place of employment in the morning.

Some of the lesser known physical symptoms of stress reveal themselves in some of the most unlikely places, like the ears, the lungs, and even in the hair. Those racing hormones which give us the ability to react more quickly to our perceived danger also heighten our sense of hearing. While this may sound like a benefit, in reality, it can be a danger. Research conducted at Cornell University revealed that even a moderate amount of noise is capable of elevating the damaging stress hormones.

Another study indicates that a collection of smaller noisy stressors – taken together – can actually be more stressful than one time loud noise. So, moms, it's not your imagination: a loud television in the background, kids yelling and screaming, horns honking and other noises really do send your nerves on end.

A large part of the fight-or-flight response resides in your lungs. One of our first reactions to a stressful situation is to hyperventilate. With hyperventilation, the human body pumps its lungs full of extra oxygen that will soon be needed in the bloodstream to run from threats, which in prehistoric era meant a large, deadly animal.

But today, our threats aren't as overt as that. So for the most part our increased breathing causes dizziness and pains in the diaphragm. Severe stress, additionally, exacerbates existing asthma conditions and any other preexisting respiratory problems.

You shouldn't be surprised that under conditions of continual stress you discover that your hair isn't as shiny as it once was. In fact, you may even discover that you're losing some of your hair. Hair loss is part of your body's very real reaction to tension. Hair is considered by many a barometer of your inner health. So in stressful situations your hair may be the first part of your body to feel the repercussions.

Those old movies that show a woman who has just been scared witless by some monster suddenly developing a streak of gray hair aren't far from the truth because stress triggers the autoimmune system to attack its own hair follicles.

Another good example of stress and hair-related issues is to examine the men who become U.S. presidents. If the individual didn't enter the office with gray hair, he certainly left with it after even as few as four years. An even more severe reaction is that you may discover your hair is actually falling out.

Other Physical Consequences of Stress

Did you know that stress can even cause bad breath, and dry mouth? Because you take shorter, shallower breaths when you're feeling anxious, you also discover that it's harder to swallow. You might even react to stress by clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth. This even occurs during the middle of the night, when one would think that stress shouldn't be present.

The hormonal rush of adrenaline also causes your eyes to dilate. While this improves your vision, a trait that would have helped our primitive ancestors in dealing with dangerous situations. But, as with stress-related hearing responses, this reaction also has a down side.

It triggers eye ticks. Your muscles just can't sustain this level of alertness for very long. They soon grow tired. Some individuals even find that their eyes bulge from the stress that over-stimulates the thyroid gland.

Our brain – under perceived anxiety – instructs your muscles to constrict, tightening them in preparation for either a literal fight with the threat or for the run away from the danger. In addition to causing sore muscles, chronic stress has been known to put the body at a greater risk of sprain. Stress over long periods also aggravates existing cases of rheumatoid arthritis.

The skin is your body's largest organ, so it should come as no surprise that even the skin isn't immune from the adverse affects of chronic tension. Symptoms such as increased acne, rashes and itchy patches are made worse by the continued presence of nervous tension.

Have you noticed that when some people are embarrassed they blush? This too is a reaction to stress. Yet the same stressor can cause others to go pale. Hives? They can result when the skin reacts physically to stress. In fact, just about any skin condition will worsen when it's subjected to stress.

The disease which many refer to as shingles is very often triggered by stress. Shingles caused by the virus herpes zoster is related to the same virus that causes chicken pox.

Constipation. Diarrhea. Even spastic colon. These are only a few of the ways your digestive system may react to daily, chronic stress. The brain – when laboring under the threat of constant tension – actually diverts blood from the digestive tract, which effectively slows your digestion. Stress additionally increases acid production, which only increases any existing ulcers. Exposing your system to prolonged stress also increases your chances of developing colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

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