Here's what stress does to your body

Your body can handle stress for a short period. But when that stress stretches for a longer time it can make trouble for your brain and other vital organs. 

Myupchar August 20, 2019 15:58:44 IST
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Here's what stress does to your body
  • Medically, stress is a condition of emotional or physical tension and our body can handle stress for a short period

  • It is when that stress stretches for long it can make trouble for your brain and other vital organs

  • The global average of prolonged stress is 86%, however, in India it affects approximately 89% of the population

On 10 August 2019, researchers at the American Psychological Association felt the need to remind us of a lesson we learnt in class 7 biology: stress is the body’s response to new challenges as well as threats - any time we try something out of our comfort zone, there is bound to be a little bit of stress.

Anxiety, similarly, is the body’s “internal alarm system”, to kick things into high gear. For example, if you’re faced with a hungry tiger, you want that cortisol stress hormone to take over. Further, the researchers said, the desire to be happy and contented always is a sure-shot recipe for disappointment.

Heres what stress does to your body

Representational image

Medically, stress is a condition of emotional or physical tension. Your body can handle stress for a short period. But when that stress stretches like bad chewing gum, it can make trouble for your brain and other vital organs.

In January 2019, a group of researchers used questionnaires to determine the impact of stress and adversities on infant development across 120 Indian villages. They found that continued stress, including the mother’s stress levels, can affect development along with five key growth metrics — height, weight, and motor, cognitive and language skills — in babies as young as 12-18 months.

Stress: The India Story

A 2018 survey by Cigna TTK Health Insurance found that 89% of Indians have prolonged stress. By comparison, the global average is 86%. What’s more, the survey found that the data are worse for millennials than the older generation.

The causes of stress can vary from person to person. Yet, whatever the reason — tremendous workload, relationship issues, money problems — the longer your troubles last, the more your body has to deal with the stress hormone cortisol. In some cases, stress can turn into chronic stress. And yes, that is as bad as it sounds.

Here’s a quick look at the effects of stress on your body:

Memory and mood: Chronic or prolonged stress impairs cognitive function.

Immune system: Stress, during its onset or when it is moderate, can help in immune functioning. But as the stress grows and becomes long-term, it curtails the body’s immune response, making you more prone to diseases. Long-term stress reduces the efficacy of cytotoxic T lymphocytes, which help the body to fight cancer and tumours.

Cardiovascular function: When we are really stressed, the body’s nervous system triggers the sympathetic alpha-adrenergic receptors and the adrenal glands release catecholamines or stress hormones in the blood.

Together, these receptors and hormones increase the heart rate and the flow of blood to our hands, legs and heart (this is what powers the fight or flight response). But they also lead to an increased demand for oxygen in the body - when this demand is not met, it can be dangerous and may lead to a heart attack.

Gastrointestinal system: The effects of stress on the gastrointestinal or GI system can be classified into two aspects. First, people under stress often lose their appetite. And second, stress affects your general GI functioning. This, in turn, may lead to disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A 2011 study by Konturek et al. found that stress affects six aspects of GI functioning:

  • GI tract movement
  • Visceral irritability
  • Rate and extent of various GI secretions
  • Permeability of the intestinal barrier
  • Blood flow to the GI tract
  • Intestinal or gut bacteria counts

As the APA study said, a little bit of stress is part and parcel of daily life. We can, however, change the way we handle some situations, to keep stress manageable:

  • Do you know about Jack, the dull boy? Turns out all work and no play, also makes Jack a sick boy. Be smart. Take the time to relax.
  • Talk to your family and friends about any issues. Just talking about things with a receptive listener can help you put things into perspective. Seek their advice. Help them help you.
  • Try to stay fit and eat healthily.
  • Exercise. The endorphins or happy hormones will stand you in good stead throughout the day. Walk, swim, run - do some form of brisk activity for at least 35 minutes, five to six days a week.
  • Sleep at least 7-8 hours a day - scientists are now finding links between sleep and a healthy heart and brain. Plus, our brain synthesizes information while we sleep. Next time you need a brilliant idea for that presentation, try this: do the research and sleep on it. Make sure you have enough time to prepare the presentation - leaving things down to the last minute can spike your stress levels.
  • Plan well. Before you do anything, analyse the positives and negatives. As much as possible, avoid unnecessarily stressful situations.
  • Yoga and meditation can also help you handle stress.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. To know more on this topic, please visit https://www.myupchar.com/en/disease/stress

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