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Stress is a real health risk

Stress is a real health risk

Stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body.

Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways that are meant to protect you. Today’s life doesn’t mean that life is free of stress in fact, for many people, today’s life is loaded with stress but how we deal with it makes the difference.

You undoubtedly face multiple demands every day, such as carrying a huge workload, making ends meet and taking care of your family. Your body treats these smaller hassles as threats. As a result, you may feel as if you’re constantly under assault. But you can fight back. You don’t have to let stress control your life and minimise the stress and its impact on your health.

Understanding the natural response

When you encounter a perceived threat like a large dog barking at you during your morning walk, then your brain sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located near your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases glucose in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation, and fear. Now you may understand why you don’t have any energy or appetite when you are unduly stressed.

When the natural response is out of control

The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels and other systems resume their regular functions.

But when stressful moments are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.

Why you react like that?

We all react to stressful moments in a slightly different way. How you react to stressors in your life is affected by such factors as:

  • Genes – that control the stress response keep most people on a fairly even keel, only occasionally priming the body for fight-or-flight. How you react to those stressful moments may stem from slight differences in these genes.
  • Life experiences – strong stress reactions sometimes can be traced to traumatic events. People who were neglected or abused as children tend to be particularly vulnerable to stress. The same is true of people who have experienced violent crime, airplane crash survivors, military personnel, police officers and firefighters.

You may have some friends who seem laid-back about almost everything and others who react strongly at the slightest stress. The majority of people react somewhere in the middle.

If you can learn ways to better manage your reactions to stressful moments, then you will not only get some peace of mind but you may live a longer and healthier life.

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