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We all experience stress from time to time, and we all deal with stress differently.  We even experience different types of stress. 

What is stress?

Stress is defined as the brain's response to any demand. Not all stress is bad, but all stress impacts how the body functions and hormones within the body.

How does stress affect the body?

Your body reacts differently to stress if it's during the short term, or if it's chronic.  Think about facing a dangerous situation (short term) - a dog barks loudly and startles you.  Your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen, and activity increases.  All of these functions are aimed at survival.  

However, during chronic stress, those same nerve chemicals that are life-saving in short bursts can suppress functions that aren't needed for immediate survival.  Your immunity is lowered and your digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems stop working normally.  Once the threat has passed, other body systems act to restore normal functioning.  Problems occur if the stress response goes on too long, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided.

Here's a more in-depth look at how the chemicals and hormones in your body are affected by stress:

Think back to be startled by a barking dog.  Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.

Once this perceived threat and situation passes, your hormones return back to normal.  Adrenaline and cortisol levels drop back to normal, heart rate and blood pressure drop back to normal, and all systems can resume their normal activity.  

With chronic stress, these processes aren't able to resume normal levels, which puts your body at risk for serious health problems:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive issues
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep issues
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

How does stress affect your overall health?

There are 3 different types of stress, which can negatively affect your overall health.
  • Routine stress related to pressure from work, family, and other daily responsibilities.
  • Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.
  • Traumatic stress, experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.
When people experience stress, their body reacts with a range of symptoms - digestive issues, headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger, and irritability.  People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu and common cold.

Routine stress tends to be the hardest on the body because it involves constant stress and the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning.  Over time, continued routine stress can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses.

Check out all the effects that stress can have on the body:

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How can you cope with stress?

  • Talk with your Wellness Coach about your stressors and brainstorm ways that will help you decrease them.
  • Get proper healthcare for existing or new health problems.
  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional support.  Ask for help from friends, family, community, or religious organizations to reduce stress.
  • Be conscious of your stress throughout the day so you can find ways to decrease it.
  • Set priorities - decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems.  If you can't do this on your own, seek help to overcome the problem.
  • Exercise regularly - go for a walk, bike ride, jog.  Just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
  • If you are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or coping with drugs/alcohol, please seek help from a qualified mental health professional.
National Institute of Health. Adult Stress - Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/Stress_Fact sheet_LN_142898.pdf

Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

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