We all know that stress has its function and that it helps us to save our lives, but it can also make us bitter to the point that our health is severely affected. In the following article we explain the ten most surprising ways in which stress affects our health, complemented by two interesting videos to make it more visual and fun, and we will also leave you some very practical resources to deal with it.
- 1 What we understand by stress
- 2 Hypertension
- 3 Heart attack and stroke
- 4 Increased appetite
- 5 Belly fat
- 6 Insulin resistance and diabetes
- 7 Acid reflux and ulcers
- 8 Immune system dysfunction
- 9 Memory loss
- 10 Anxiety, aggressiveness and mental illness
- 11 Shorten the years of life
- 12 What can we do
What do we understand by stress?
The stress It is a term that many people use to describe a state in which the demands of life become too great to meet them. These circumstances vary for each one, what one sees as stressful to the other may not seem so. What is invariable is that stress will appear when changes arise in our lives, and it can save or bitter our lives to the point of suffering major health problems.
Stress has its function. What in principle was a mechanism for survival would cease to be if it did not have a switch to turn it off. The sympathetic system cannot be constantly activated. If we do not turn off the stress response we would end up exhausted and our biological system would eventually break down and develop ailments and diseases. It is the same as if we drive a car and keep it accelerated, non-stop and for days. It would end up getting hot and broken.
All this must be seen as a continuous process of active adaptation to the environment through psycho-neuro-endocrine mechanisms. In this system the cerebral cortex has an integrative function at the highest level, it serves as a transducer of psychosocial stimuli by transforming changes into hormone neurotransmitters and other physiological processes.
Sometimes we do not usually realize that we are under stress until it begins to "make its own." It is important to recognize stress before it escapes our control as it can negatively affect our health. In fact, The American Psychological Association warns that the United States, for example, is a nation on the verge of a stress-induced public health crisis.
It is a feeling we have all felt. You are going to make a presentation and your heart starts beating as if it were going to leave your chest. Your tonsil, the part of the brain that helps with emotional processing, has sent an alarm signal to your hypothalamus. Acting as a central command, the hypothalamus has activated your autonomic nervous system to release adrenalin (also known as epinephrine) from the adrenal glands to your bloodstream. As a result, your heart pumps faster and thus spikes blood pressure. If this stress is repeated in the end it will result in high blood pressure.
Heart attack and stroke
Also indirectly your chances of heart disease and stroke increase as blood pressure increases. Persistent stress can directly increase that risk by increasing the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body called cytokines. Inflammation can, in turn, damage the lining of blood vessels. Scientists now know that this is a first step in triggering the process of atherosclerosis, the accumulation of plaque in our arteries.
When you are constantly under stress, your body tries to provide you with fuel for the next challenge. After the release of adrenalin, the second part of our stress response, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis causes the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol. Better known as the stress hormone, cortisol not only keeps our response to stress activated, it also increases appetite. Worse, it tells your body to supply our energy stores with very caloric foods, such as carbohydrates. The only problem is that there is no bear, there are no large calories that we have to burn, so those desire to peck translated into extra calories, well ... extra pounds (if we don't take care of ourselves).
During the stress response, your body feeds on fat cells as another source of energy. Triglycerides are released into the bloodstream, and if not used, redistributed in the form of belly fat.
Together with cortisol, scientists believe that neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neurotransmitter that regulates energy storage, may be responsible for the accumulated fat in the belly. In stressful situations, NPY sends signals to the abdomen to store belly fat. One possible reason is that visceral fat is more easily converted into energy than fat in the thighs and buttocks. But, of course, the accumulation of abdominal fat is dangerous. Visceral fat is capable of releasing hormones that increase inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Insulin resistance and diabetes
Insulin is a hormone found in a "tug of war" with cortisol. Insulin helps muscle cells absorb glucose from the blood and helps fat cells store energy. Cortisol does the opposite, it gets quick energy for your body during stress. Under chronic stress, cortisol frustrates the action of insulin, and makes cells resistant to insulin. The insulin resistance It leads to increased blood sugar circulation and diabetes mellitus.
Acid reflux and ulcers
The brain and intestine are intimately connected. The intestine contains its own nervous system, or "mini brain," which communicates with the brain through the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Stress increases sensitivity to acid reflux. So even if the amount of acid does not change we would be more likely to feel heartburn. Gastritis, reflux and ulcers are often caused by an overproduction of gastric acid, the same secretion may favor inflammation of the gastric lining.
Immune system dysfunction
Confronted by stress, your immune system is called to action. Immune cells prepare to fight invaders, and heal in case of injury. Chronic stress continues until the inflammatory cells necessary in the healing process are released.Cortisol can slow the production and action of cytokines, responsible for initiating the immune response thereby increasing susceptibility to infections such as the common cold.
Loss of memory
The hippocampus, an important brain region for memory, is one of the parts of the brain that is most vulnerable to stress. In remarkable studies in animals, chronic stress can cause the hippocampus to lose neurons, and reduce the size of the brain. It can also alter the communication pathways, or synapses. These changes can jeopardize your ability to learn and remember. Chronic stress can also accelerate memory loss and cognitive impairment.
Anxiety, aggressiveness and mental illness
Numerous studies have shown a correlation between chronic stress and the development of mood disorders. How it happens is not entirely clear. Chronic stress can enlarge the amygdala, the region of the brain involved in fear, anxiety and aggression. Animal studies also show that chronic stress can change the connection pathways in the brain. A stronger path to the center of fear could be behind an intensified fear response. And a weaker path for decision making can explain impulsive behavior.
Shorten the years of life
In addition to increasing the risk of developing diseases that shorten our life years, Chronic stress can directly reduce longevity by damaging critical parts of our DNA called telomeres. Telomeres are specialized structures located at the ends of chromosomes, which protect them from possible fusions and degradation, thereby ensuring chromosome stability and cell viability. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten. When telomeres become too short, a cell can no longer divide, and therefore dies.
It has been found that people living with chronic stress have shorter telomeres. A 2004 study among women caring for a chronically ill child showed that those who felt more stress had shorter telomeres that were on average the equivalent of a decade of aging compared to mothers who felt less stress.
What can we do
Instead of trying to eliminate stress, which is an unavoidable part of everyday life, we can build our capacity to resist stress, either by changing the way we perceive stressful events or by strengthening our personal resources.
Subscribe here to our YouTube channel
Bloom, F.E. i Lazerson, A. (1988). Brain, Mind, and Behavior. Nova York: Freeman and Company.
Bradford, H.F. (1988). Fundamentals of neurochemistry. Barcelona: Labor.
Selye, H. (1960). The tension in life. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Cía. General Fabril
Selye, H. (Ed.). (1980). Selye's guide to stress research. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold
Tobeña, A. (1997). Harmful stress. Madrid: Aguilar.
Valdés, M. & Flores, T. (1990). Psychobiology of stress (2nd ed. Current.). Barcelona: Martínez Roca
You may be interested:
- What is stress
- How to cope with stress
- Cortisol, the stress hormone
- How to relieve stress from economic concerns
- Test on vulnerability to stress
- Test on stress coping skills
- Personality test
- Self-esteem test
- Couple Compatibility Test
- Self-knowledge test
- Friendship test
- Am i in love