Everyday Stress Can Be Detrimental to Your Health

Stress is often defined as our bodies' natural reaction to some particular events in our lives. The factors which trigger stress are classified either as internal or external stressors. Internal stressors cause disturbances in the body's normal functions (like in the case of infection or inflammation) while external stressors are the factors in the environment which are perceived by our brain as potential threats.

When faced with a potential and imminent danger, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system of the brain prompt the production and release of steroid hormones, including the primary stress hormone cortisol and certain neurotransmitters called catecholamine. These chemical substances enable a person to deal quickly with possible threats and are vital in emergency situations.

Acute stress causes an instantaneous increase in heart rate and blood pressure, pumps our bodies with adrenaline, triggers the increased production of red and white blood cells and diverts fluids from other non-essential parts of our body (the mouth, throat and the digestive tract). Among the effects of acute stress are the drying of the mouth which makes it hard to talk or swallow, sweating and pallor, motor agitation and enlarged pupils.

However, when the threat has passed, the stress response is then inactivated, the bodily functions normalize and we experience what is known as the "relaxation response".

If the stressors persist, our stress response then refuses to inactivate and we stay on a low-level alarm mode for prolonged durations. This condition results to what is known as chronic stress. It is sad to note that we are a part of a society where there is never a shortage of stressful situations plaguing our daily lives. Causes of chronic stress may range from being involved in problematic relationships, having a highly demanding job, being isolated from your family and unrelenting financial difficulties.

If the condition continuously goes unchecked, chronic stress may lead to ill health. Among the ailments that may be attributed to chronic stress are the following:

. Depression or anxiety. Several researches prove that constant stress results in the hyperactivity of the HPA system of the brain and upsets the normal levels of serotonin in the body. This chemical substance is believed to be critical for feelings of well-being.

. Heart Disease. Serious cardiac events such as heart rhythm abnormalities and heart attacks may be influenced by chronic stress.

. Weakening of the immune defense system. Chronic stress sufferers are found out to have lower white blood cell counts compared to non-sufferers. Hence, chronic stress sufferers are more prone to sickness.

. Gastrointestinal problems. The brain and the intestine are very strongly related. In fact, the two organs share many of the same hormones necessary for them to function normally. That is why it is not at all surprising for chronic stress to upset the digestive system. Constipation, diarrhea, cramping, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer and inflammatory bowel diseases were all found out to be greatly influenced by stress. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and diabetes have also been associated with the problem.

. Sexual and Reproductive Dysfunctions. In women, stress can lead to decreased sexual desires, the inability to reach orgasms, intense premenstrual pains and sometimes alters the menstrual cycle while it may cause temporary impotence in men. Maternal stress during pregnancy results to lower birth weights, premature births and increases the odds of miscarriage.

. Stress can also have different effects on eating problems and weight. While some people who suffer from chronic stress may put on weight or at extremes, suffer from obesity, there are also cases wherein a sufferer loses weight and appetite.

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