Mousab Kassem Azzawi
2020 / 10 / 3
HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOUR MIND AND BODY?
Edited by Mousab Kassem Azzawi, MSc, MD, PhD, MRCPath.
In this lecture, you will learn about the stress response and the three key stress hormones, which are adrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol. You will also learn that there are hundreds of chemical reactions that occur when you are under stress. In fact, stress—both acute stress and chronic stress—will bring negative effects to your overall health and well-being.
In the Western world 75 to 90 percent of all visits to health-care providers result from stress-related disorders.
Stress is a state one experiences when there is a mismatch between perceived demands and our ability to cope. In other words, stress is experienced when people do not feel like they can do everything that is expected of them.
Stress has been extensively studied in the military, and a very insightful model of stress was developed during World War II to understand what happens to soldiers when they are on the battlefield, exposed to hundreds—if not thousands—of stressful situations. For some of us, our work´-or-home environment can sometimes feel like a war zone, and our ability to perform at our best can be seriously impacted in similar ways.
People who think that stress is good are typically confusing stress with challenge. At first, challenge improves our performance, but as the amount of work continues and our challenges in life increase, our ability to perform our best can be compromised.
When under stress, the body goes through several physiological changes that can be measured and quantified, including an increase in heart rate, blood sugar, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
The autonomic,´-or-automatic, nervous system has two components: the sympathetic nervous system, which is the stimulating nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system that makes you calm and relaxed.
When your sympathetic nervous system is activated, your blood becomes stickier and more prone to clot. You also produce hormones—a few of which raise your blood pressure, such as renin and angiotensin. In addition, your insulin resistance increases, so your fasting insulin increases. Furthermore, cholesterol and blood pressure rise, and arteries constrict.
There are hundreds of chemical reactions that occur in our bodies due to stress. There are three key stress hormones that support our bodies in emergency situations: adrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol.
Adrenaline is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal gland, which sits on top of the kidneys. Adrenaline is produced during high-stress´-or-exciting situations and is part of your body’s acute stress response—called the fight-or-flight reaction.
When you produce adrenaline, your heart rate increases, your blood vessels constrict, and your airways dilate—all of which bring more blood flow to your muscles and more oxygen to your lungs.
Aldosterone is essential to life because it regulates electrolytes, which include elements such as sodium and potassium. Aldosterone is also secreted by the adrenal gland and causes the reabsorption of sodium, which is needed in stressful situations, into the bloodstream.
Cortisol is also produced by the adrenal gland, and you need cortisol to release sugar into your bloodstream under stress because you need sugar in your muscles when they are being used.
These three hormones play an important role in our survival. The key is that they are triggered in emergency situations, which arise quickly and hopefully subside just as quickly.
However, if we never turn our stress hormones off, our blood pressure increases, and we end up with ulcers in our stomach and are more prone to infections and even cancer. The male hormone testosterone decreases, and women have irregular menstrual cycles.
Stress not only causes physical changes in our bodies, but it also causes emotional and mental changes. Research shows that people under stress have cognitive inhibition, causing them to not make the best choices. Stress causes us to lose focus-;- it affects our mental clarity.
Stress affects our ability to relax and , and when we feel as though we cannot cope with all the items on our agenda, stress even affects our self-esteem.
Stress also leads to anger, which increases the risk of a heart attack by 230 percent. Anger is one of the most lethal emotions for the heart.
Research by Dr Janice Kiecolt-Glaser in the area of chronic stress shows that caregiving is a good thing, but if you deplete yourself and make yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted as a result of giving care to another, it will affect your immune system.
Dr Kiecolt-Glaser’s work shows that if a physician administers the flu vaccine to caregivers who are depleted and exhausted, they may not even mount the response to the flu vaccine— meaning that they do not get the antibodies to protect them. Perhaps they were under so much stress that they could not produce antibodies.
Chronic stress is an interesting area of research. High cortisol levels are associated with accelerated ageing, impaired memory, and ability to learn, and even osteoporosis. There is another sign of ageing that comes with chronic stress: a reduction in muscle mass.
Under stress, immune -function- is affected and blood sugar increases. Stress also makes diabetes much worse. Furthermore, high levels of cortisol make people gain weight.