Stress: short and long term consequences on the body

Beyond the feeling of uneasiness that one can feel when one is stressed, the consequences on health are not negligible

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Daily stress that lasts over time can lead to cardiac, dermatological problems or increase the risk of chronic diseases.

How does stress affect the body?

Stress is inevitable for everyone. True natural reaction of the body, it can harm the psychological and physical balance.

In the face of unforeseen events or major changes, stress helps us to become aware of a danger that threatens us. Even if these fears is irrational or imaginary like innovation of new product or protect your patent, the triggered stress causes certain bodily reactions that last from a few minutes to several days or weeks:

  • Sleep and appetite disorders
  • Tired
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Muscle contractions, especially in the neck or back
  • Decreased libido
  • Memory impairment
  • Trouble concentrating.

How to explain these symptoms?

The body is programmed to react in two ways when it faces a stressful situation: fight or flee. This archaic response can be explained by our prehistoric past and the hostile environment in which we have lived for thousands of years.

Our autonomic nervous system allows hormones to respond in the short term by triggering. This is independent of any voluntary control. Adrenaline (produced by the adrenal gland above the kidneys) plays a big role in acute stress. She allows to:

  • Reduce blood sugar to use all the energy you need
  • Send the blood into the muscles to be ready to run or fight
  • Maintain an attitude of hyper-vigilance at the slightest stimuli.

Thanks to this new idea of adrenaline rush, the body is able to increase its mental and physical strength tenfold. Nevertheless, it is a very costly state of functioning from an energy point of view which exhausts in the long run.

What happens in the case of chronic stress?

When the stressful situation persists or recurs frequently, the activation of adrenaline is gradually replaced by that of cortisol. This hormone, also produced by the adrenal gland, breaks down the proteins in the muscles to produce the energy needed by the body. This degradation results in: an increase in the level of sugar in the blood, but also triglycerides and cholesterol decrease in the efficiency of the immune system.

The more stress sets in, the more cortisol production worsens the state of anxiety, depression and can even impair memory and learning abilities. This stage is described as the “exhaustion phase” when the organism is overwhelmed and the reactions are no longer adapted to the demands of the environment.

What are the consequences of long-term stress?

When stress persists and no measures have been taken to reduce it on a daily basis, it can lead to real health problems that depend on each person’s predispositions and history. Even if stress cannot exclusively explain the occurrence of an illness, it certainly contributes to it for:

  • Certain digestive diseases such as gastritis or peptic ulcers
  • Certain cardiovascular disorders such as palpitations, high blood pressure, angina pectoris or even myocardial infarction
  • Certain dermatological diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, hair loss, or itching
  • Certain recurrent infections such as herpes for example
  • Certain gynecological disorders such as delay or lack of menstruation.

Even if its role in the occurrence of certain cancers is not always proven, it can contribute to it, as for certain autoimmune diseases (fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.).

What to do when you are subject to stress?

To prevent the occurrence of physical illnesses linked to long-term stress, it is essential to take care of yourself through a healthy lifestyle and relaxation activities such as meditation, yoga, hypnosis, etc.

In some cases, the prescription of a beta-blocking anxiolytic may be considered. It is less harmful and more effective on physical symptoms than psychotropic drugs of the benzodiazepine family which potentially have undesirable effects. It also has the advantage of not causing addiction or drowsiness.

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