How Does Stress Damage the Body and Mind?

How many times a day do you think you hear the word “stress”? Probably more than you would like to admit, but it is a fact of life that everyone has times when they’re “stressed out.” While life will never ease the presence of stressful situations, the responses individuals have to stress can vary greatly. The original form of stress in your caveman ancestors was dangerous predators and threats from other groups. Humans became hardwired with a “flight or fight” response to stress because of these conditions. The sweaty palms, the racing heart, the hyper focused mindset, these symptoms are all responses to stress and the desire to either stay and fight the stressor or flee to save your life.

But what is stress exactly? Most would say it is personal relationships, your demanding job, or the pressures of daily life. While these might be your stressors, the body recognizes stress as the release of certain hormones in preparation for a difficult situation. Everyone presents stress in different ways: some lose sleep, some sleep too much, concentration difficulty, appetite loss or increase, lack of energy, but regardless of how you show your stress, what stress does to the brain and body is the troubling consequence.

Your body does not distinguish from physical or psychological stress. When the brain feels that you are in danger, it releases adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. In your caveman ancestors, these hormones would allow you to go longer without eating, using the restroom, sleeping, and help you not to feel pain if you needed to focus on outrunning a predator or trying to make a big kill. Your body still releases these hormones, except today it does it when you find out that you have lost your job, a family member has passed or your home is threatened by natural disaster.

While everyone has stress in their lives, long-term stress can be damaging to your health and longevity. Stress raises blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, increases the aging process and inhibits fertility. When you are feeling stressed, your brain is flooding your body with cortisol and adrenaline in the hopes of helping your reaction. The problem with long-term stress is that the stress hormones, in particular cortisol, damages the body in a number of ways. Cortisol destroys healthy bone and muscle, impairs your ability to properly heal, slows digestion and metabolism, reduces energy levels, and can disrupt mental functionality.

Finding positive ways of coping and eliminating stress in your life is crucial to maintaining your health and increasing your quality of life. Studies have shown that long-term stress can even grow the proteins contributed to Alzheimer’s and causes disorders like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and premature menopause. While you may not be able to rid yourself of your biggest stressor, you can control your reactions and benefit your health. Try 30 minutes of daily meditation, exercise, counseling, or medication if you need extra help in finding the right channels to cope with your stress.

If you’re stressed out about your health, preventative medical care can be exactly what you’re looking for. Speak with your doctor or call Doctors Imaging at 504-883-8111, and we can discuss what will work best for you.