How does stress actually affect our health?

Medically and psychologically, stress is a reaction to stimuli that burden us and thus trigger stress reactions. The triggers of these stimuli are called stressors. What burdens us, or is a stressor can be very different.

The body’s stress reaction activates an area in our brain called the sympathetic nervous system, which sounds very sympathetic but is responsible for a chain reaction that makes us more productive in the short term, but at the same time puts other important functions on the back burner.

Whoever fights a sebel-tooth victor has no resources to digest lunch or to heal small injuries. Every sparkling energy available to the body is used to eliminate the stressor. So we are in a state of alarm. Breath, heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension increase with the simultaneous release of sugar to provide the body with quick energy. This in turn creates exhaustion, palpitations, restless sleep and aggression. In addition, the sugar components that are usually not needed, because we are usually not in a physically strenuous situation, are more difficult to break down in the blood. If the stressors do not end, the stress reaction does not end either and, in simple terms, the body can no longer take care of itself.

It can happen when our health is already a bit weak, that stressful situations exacerbate our state of illness and that we are generally more susceptible to illness.

The release of hormones during stress and the effects on health are considerable. It can be assumed that stress contributes to the development of more than half of all diseases, and the cardiovascular system in particular is affected. In a study, the so-called Whitehall Study, on 17,530 public sector employees in London, a connection between experience of distress and coronary heart disease was demonstrated. But also with psychomatic illnesses, such as chronic pain conditions, asthma, bronchial illnesses, rheumatism and even cancer diseases, but also mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety states, can be traced back to stress. Pain, such as stomach, chest and digestive problems, as well as fatigue, sleep disorders, heart pain, etc., are also associated with high psychosocial stress and, unfortunately, are often part of everyday life.

Possible consequences of permanent stress can therefore be:

  • Vegetative-hormonal reactions: cardiovascular / respiratory problems – high blood pressure – digestive problems – sleep disorders – migraines – dizziness – increased sweating;
  • Muscular reactions: muscle tremors – general tension – back pain – sore throat, neck pain – increased fatigue – tendency to cramp – inability to relax;
  • Possible cognitive reactions: shifts in perception – disturbances in concentration – memory disturbances – loss of performance – restricted ability to think – negative thoughts – daydreams;
  • Emotional reactions: aggressive behavior – feelings of fear up to panic attacks – insecurity – dissatisfaction – nervousness – depression, apathy – irritability.

But what does that show us? It shows us how important it is to pay attention to the physical symptoms caused by stress, to strengthen our immune system in order to prevent chronic stress diseases. We can achieve this with a health-conscious lifestyle: for example physical activity, a healthy diet, regular rest periods, adequate sleep and fresh air. Above all, relaxation processes and the development of mental strategies can help significantly to avoid stress reactions and to offer the body the opportunity to regenerate.

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