Stress has become a part of the life of a modern person and lies in wait for him in a variety of situations. Oddly enough, this is not always a bad thing. Stress stimulates you to cope with hard work and find a way out of extreme situations. Also, stress is always accompanied by exciting events and vivid emotions. However, it is important not to miss the moment when stress becomes overwhelming and becomes a serious health threat. In this article, we’ll talk about the effects of stress on the body and how to control it.
What is stress?
Stress is a combination of physiological and psychological reactions of the body to a certain stimulus – the so-called stress factor. Depending on the duration of exposure, they distinguish short-term and chronic stress. These two conditions have different effects on human health, so it is worth understanding their essence in more detail.
A person is exposed to short-term (acute) stress for a limited period of time. It can be caused by criticism from the boss at a meeting, a sudden conflict on the street, or a sports competition. It is quite possible to benefit from this state, because during acute stress the amount of energy temporarily increases, physical strength and concentration increase, a person becomes reckless and active. This mobilization makes it possible to better cope with an extreme situation. Of course, a state of acute stress does not always have a positive effect and has a stimulating effect: for example, a person may fall into a stupor or start to panic. Nevertheless, when the threat has passed, the body, after a short-term stress, quickly restores its physiological parameters to normal values.
Unfortunately, long-term and regular exposure to stress factors is much worse for a person. So, when working in a complex team with a “toxic” boss, living in a disadvantaged area with a high level of crime or a constant threat of conflict with a loved one, stress becomes chronic – the body is in constant stress, its cardiovascular, nervous and other systems experience increased load.
A long-term state of stress can lead to a breakdown of adaptive mechanisms and chronic pathologies – hypertension, coronary heart disease, a state of immunodeficiency, as well as depression and other health problems.
It is necessary to distinguish stress from nervous tension. Nervous tension is also a very unpleasant condition, but it still refers to mental excitement, while stress is not complete without significant physiological changes and hormonal surges.
The effect of stress on the body can be considered as a process consisting of several stages, successively replacing each other.
- The stage of mobilization: there is a surge of energy, the heart begins to beat faster, breathing becomes shallow, blood pressure rises, adrenaline and another “stress hormone” – cortisol – are released. This is, in a sense, a “primitive” reaction that prepares the body for the execution of the command “fight or flight.”
- The stage of resistance: the first shock passes, the production of hormones decreases slightly (but still higher than normal), but the body continues to be in a state of heightened readiness.
- Depletion stage: if the body is under stress for an excessively long time, then its defense mechanisms inevitably fail. Physical and emotional resources are running out. All this can lead to a negative effect on the functioning of the immune, nervous, cardiovascular and other systems of the body.
We are used to using the word stress to describe extremely negative situations. In fact, the effect of stress on the human body is observed not only during troubles but also during positive events. For the convenience of distinguishing between these states, the concepts of eustress and distress were introduced.
Eustress is a “positive” stress that:
- is always short-term;
- motivates and improves performance;
- is relatively easily tolerated both physically and psychologically;
- ends with relaxation and positive emotions.
Examples of eustress: having a baby, wedding day or promotion, going to university, and more.
Distress is destructive, and its features are completely different:
- both chronic and acute forms of the course;
- suppression, decrease in labor productivity;
- loss of the ability to adapt to the outside world;
- physiological malaise against the background of negative emotions;
- the development of somatic and mental illnesses.
Causes of distress: serious illness of a loved one, long-term conflict situations, unemployment, sleep problems, and so on.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an example of an extremely severe form of distress. It is a delayed response to intense stressors such as natural disaster, war, or violence.
For the record: In connection with the massive appearance of signs of post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans, concepts such as “Vietnam syndrome” and “Afghan syndrome” were introduced, which mean the development of this disease in connection with participation in the corresponding hostilities.
PTSD is manifested either by so-called flashback symptoms – sudden immersion in a traumatic situation with intrusive memories and distorted perception of reality, or a symptom of avoidance, when a person in every possible way avoids any situations and conversations that can somehow remind him of the trauma. This condition is often accompanied by pain in the heart and abdomen, shortness of breath and insomnia. Negative thoughts, nightmares, outbursts of anger and fear can haunt a person for years, significantly reducing the quality of life.
For the record: With chronic stress and PTSD, Da Costa syndrome, which is also called the “soldier’s heart”, is often encountered – a feeling of heartache and fear of death, leading to cardiac arrest or heart attack. With this syndrome, the thoughts and feelings of the person suffering from it are in no way connected with real organic problems.
Effects of stress on the body
As already mentioned, stress is a natural reaction to vivid life circumstances. However, constant or extreme stress can cause serious health problems. The human body in a state of stress produces a sharp release of hormones, which is why it experiences not only psychological but also constant physiological stress.
The negative effects of stress affect all aspects of a person’s life: emotions, behavior, thinking ability, and physical health. Because people deal with stress in different ways, the symptoms and severity of stress may differ. However, the signs of stress in different people have a lot in common, these are:
- vegetative-vascular symptoms – headache, tremors, sweating, cold extremities, fatigue;
- tachycardia and chest pain, other muscle tension, bruxism;
- gastrointestinal disorders – colic, diarrhea, constipation, nausea;
- eating disorders leading to weight gain or loss;
- colds and infectious diseases arising from a decrease in immunity;
- emotional problems – feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, inability to relax, pessimism, decreased libido;
- cognitive impairment – forgetfulness, low concentration of attention;
- sleep problems.
At first, these symptoms may appear in isolation. However, prolonged stress can easily exacerbate manymental and physical health problems or cause new ones to develop, including:
- hypertension, arrhythmia, heart attacks – people with pre-existing diseases of this group are in a special risk group, since stress, as studies show, significantly worsens their course;
- acquired immunodeficiency – increased activity of stress hormones, which are secreted by the adrenal cortex, inhibits the work of cells of the immune system;
- irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, gastritis;
- psoriasis, acne, alopecia (hair loss);
- metabolic syndrome – long-term hormonal imbalance can reach such proportions that weight cannot be controlled independently, even with the help of diets;
- depression, neurosis, cognitive and behavioral disorders – activity hormones suppress stem cells in the hippocampus, there is a violation of connections between neurons, as well as the process of formation of new nerve cells and the work of nerve circuits;
- alcohol and drug dependence – studies have shown that there is a link between the state of constant stress and substance abuse.
By the way, when it comes to stress, the mind and body are inextricably linked. Psychological discomfort due to interpersonal relationships and traumatic events leads to the development of somatic diseases. And vice versa: severe diseases of the internal organs have a negative effect on mental health and provoke stress.
How to cope with stress
What is easily tolerated by one person can be a serious problem for another. Therefore, stress factors are individual. The most common causes of stress in people today are busy work schedules, family relationships and financial problems. Anything that requires high emotional costs most often causes mental stress. Given the number of stressors around, we can say that everyone needs to know about control methods.
Treatment without drugs
Many people who experience long-term stress do not even try to change their habits and eliminate the factors that are aggravating the situation. This is a big mistake because the normalization of the lifestyle is the most important step in the fight against any ailment. Here are some simple and effective tips for getting out of stress:
- Get enough sleep. Studies have shown a strong link between chronic stress and lack of sleep. It is necessary to train yourself to go to bed at about the same time every evening, trying to sleep at least seven to eight hours. Before going to bed, it is better to refrain from watching TV, using smartphones and other sources of “blue light”, which inhibits the production of melatonin – the “sleep hormone”.
- Introduce physical activity into your life. It is not necessary to immediately run to the gym, the main thing is to find something to your liking. You can start with a daily walk – this will already bring great results. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which make us feel good. But don’t overdo it: excessive exercise can also cause stress.
- Communicate. Experiencing problems within yourself is a bad way in a stressful situation. Reach out to someone you trust and share your concerns with him or her. This will allow you to feel support and reduce psychological stress.
- Eat well. Food is a resource that our bodies use to maintain health. A balanced diet not only lowers energy but also directly damages the body.
- Seek psychotherapeutic help. A specialist is able to help you better understand the problem, teach you how to control emotions and adapt.
- Try yoga and meditation. Correct practice of asanas and breathing techniques helps to relax muscles and relieve tension. The excitability of neurons decreases, as a result of which the nervous system “calms down”.
- Prioritize. Limit your to-do list, sort out what you really need and what you can refuse. This will not only reduce the negative effects of stress, but it will also increase productivity.
There are situations when a person tries to normalize his life, but does not work: the blockage at work only increases, there is no time for anything, and it is not even possible to fall asleep on time due to disturbing thoughts. In this case, medication support may be an alternative solution. But do not immediately demand from the doctor a prescription for tranquilizers and antidepressants. Today, there are a large number of herbal over-the-counter medications that do not have as many side effects but can be great helpers in dealing with stress and insomnia.
Products based on mint, lemon balm, valerian, motherwort, rhodiola rosea, peony and some other plants work great. They can be produced in the form of herbal teas, drops or tablets. They will allow you to gently smooth out the manifestations of neurosis, stabilize the emotional state and normalize biorhythms.
Living in constant stress can develop into a serious painful condition that will require serious treatment. Do not wait for the state of health to deteriorate as much as possible, however, you should not start taking drugs uncontrollably in large quantities. The doctor will select the optimal treatment program for you, and soon you will be able to return to a fulfilling life without stress.
Stress quickly disrupts your daily routine. To prevent this situation from getting worse, it is important to respond to the first symptoms. You may not find the cause of an annoying headache, insomnia and high fatigue for a long time, attributing all this to a bad mood, inclement weather or a cold. In fact, in most cases, this is stress, which begins to affect the body even before you even realize it. Do not ignore the first symptoms. It is better to start fighting this condition as early as possible – and then you will definitely notice how vigor and well-being will return to your life.