you can grow vulnerable to some serious health problems. Here's how major systems respond to your worries.
The "fight or flight" response begins here: When you're stressed, the brain's sympathetic nerves signal the adrenal glands to release a chemical variety pack, including epinephrine (aka adrenaline) and cortisol. Persistently high levels of these chemicals may impair memory and learning, and up your odds for depression.
Stress hormones trigger the liver to produce more blood sugar, to give you that kick of energy in the moment of perceived danger. But if the "danger" you're concerned with is a long-term dilemma and you're already at risk for type 2 diabetes, bad news: Elevated glucose levels may turn you into a card-carrying diabetic.
At high-stress moments, you may find yourself breathing faster, feeling short of breath, or even hyperventilating. Over the long term, this strain on the system can make you more susceptible to upper-respiratory infections (so if you're considering a career in air-traffic control, you might want to stock up on Emergen-C).
Momentary, acute stress, like, say, when you're walking down the aisle to get married, will make your heart beat faster and blood pressure rise. Long-term stress, like unwelcome pressure from the folks to produce offspring, can cause narrowing of the arteries and elevate cholesterol levels, upping your chances of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Stress can lengthen or shorten your menstrual cycle, stop it altogether, or make your periods more painful. High levels of stress make bacterial vaginosis (BV) more likely and, during pregnancy, may increase the chance of your baby's developing asthma or allergies later in life. Bring on the prenatal yoga.
Short-term stress can actually boost the immune system, helping your body fight infection. Ongoing stress, however, turns things in the other direction, possibly slowing wound healing, leaving you more susceptible to infection, and worsening skin conditions such as eczema, hives, and yes — acne.
Extreme stress isn't unlike the morning after a bender. It can cause dry mouth, indigestion, nausea, and gas, and it stimulates the muscles of the intestines, possibly causing diarrhea or constipation. Have these symptoms chronically, and you may increase your risk for irritable bowel syndrome, severe heartburn, and ulcers.
Muscles tense to deal with what your body perceives as danger. No one who's pulled an all-nighter with only PowerPoint for company will be surprised that constantly tight muscles can cause headaches and neck, shoulder, and back pain. Chronic stress may also increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis.
How Does Stress Affect Health?
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress -- a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress also becomes harmful when people use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to try and relieve their stress. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems. Consider the following:
➨Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
➨Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
➨Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
➨The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
➨The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.