Stress Impacts Your Health Way More Than You Think
In this day and age, being “stressed out” has almost become our natural state.
And while people often know what exactly stresses them out, many don’t know exactly what stress is and how it affects our bodies and our overall health.
This is crucial to know, though. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist who is often known as the “father of stress research,” once said, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
Stress actually refers to your body’s innate response to stressors.
Technically, when we consider the stress in our lives, what we’re usually thinking of are the stressors. Stressors are the stimuli that create demands on the body. Stress is simply your body’s response — physical, mental, and emotional — to a stressor. It’s an innate coping response that leads to you either fighting or fleeing the threat you’re presented with.
We all encounter stressors in our daily lives. However, the ways in which we experience them — how we choose to think about, feel, and respond to stressors — is what determines the burden of stress. Do you find yourself shutting down or becoming anxious? Or do you feel energized and excited to attack it? Do you reach out to loved ones for support?
If you’re able to use stressful energy in a positive way, the burden of stress on your body won’t be as high.
Stress generally falls into two categories: eustress and distress.
Eustress is generally positive, short-term and within our power to control. It’s energizing and can help improve our overall performance. Distress, on the other hand, is unpleasant and outside of our control. It often depletes our energy and decreases our performance. Distress can lead to physical illness and mental fatigue.
Below are some examples of both:
Starting your dream job
Receiving a promotion/raise at work
Moving into a new home
Learning something new
Having a baby
Death of a loved one
Losing your job
Major illness or injury
The body responds to all stressors through fight or flight.
Regardless of the stressor, the body’s innate response is the same. It’s what we call the “fight or flight” response. Often, we’re completely unaware that it’s happening.
First, the brain is alerted by whatever is causing you stress. This could be something physical like a workout or car accident or something mental/emotional like stress from a deadline at work or losing a loved one.
The hypothalamus, a small gland that controls a lot of your body, alerts your pituitary gland, which then alerts your adrenals to release the hormone cortisol. When your body releases cortisol there are a few other things that occur:
Your liver releases stored glucose (sugar) into your blood. This is what allows your body to get ready to fight or flee.
All non essential functions — ie your reproductive and digestive systems — are shut down.
Stress creates problems when it becomes chronic.
Digestive dysfunction: Since the stress response shuts down non-essential functions like digestion, if you’re eating while you’re stressed, you won’t digest and absorb your food properly.
Hormonal Imbalances: Excessive stress can reduce progesterone levels, cause irregular periods, and keep women from ovulating. It can also reduce testosterone levels.
Sleep disturbances: Chronic stress can cause imbalances in your circadian rhythm, which is your sleep/wake cycle
Not all stress is bad — we need it to adapt and grow.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all stress is bad. In fact, stress is necessary. It’s what helps us adapt and change. Without stress, we would never improve and grow.
Ever hear the phrase, “growth occurs outside of your comfort zone?” It refers to the fact that stress uncomfortable, but we need it to make progress. Think about it: What goals do you have? What motivates you and helps you achieve them? It’s likely not anything that’s comfortable.