creates a defense alarm reaction, the fight or flight response that historically has been protective and adaptive, a survival mechanism. Stressors today, however, are rarely life-or-death issues (proverbial lions, tigers, and bears), but many stressors are created internally as a result of thoughts, beliefs, and emotional responses.
Stress results in the body's automatic physical changes in response to a perceived threat, whether real or imagined. The body is prepared to physically react to danger, with almost all body systems involved in the stress response. The body reacts to stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system and releasing a number of chemicals, including adrenaline and noradrenalin, into the body. This results in the physical changes (e.g., raised blood pressure, increased heart beat and breath rate). When the body no longer needs this level of activation, the parasympathetic nervous system restores a relaxed feeling.
Physical signs of stress include:
- Blood is diverted from less vital organs, such as the skin, gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidney, spleen, bone, and muscle, to more vital organs, such as brain, heart, and adrenals.
- Heart rate is increased to supply blood more quickly.
- Blood pressure is increased to supply blood more efficiently.
- Respiration rate increases to get more oxygen.
- Energy stores are mobilized.
- Proteins and fats are converted into glucose.
- Immune system is suppressed.
- Memory process is disturbed.
Physical symptoms are related to each of the signs listed above, and chronic stress can result in dysfunction and possible disease.
- Increased frequency of bowel function, with chronic stress resulting in possible irritable bowel syndrome.
- Heart palpitation, chest pain, flushing.
- Headache, possible heart attack.
- Breathlessness, respiratory alkalosis (acid disturbance in the blood).
- Depletion of energy stores, hyperglycemia (increased blood glucose levels), increased blood viscosity (danger of vessel blockage).
- Weight loss.
- Suppression of immunity resulting in infection, autoimmune illnesses (psoriasis, arthritis, lupus).
- Other: memory disturbances, sleeplessness, loss of sexual drive.
Stress is related to a number of chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, reduced immune system (increased colds, viruses), gastrointestinal problems, eating problems, diabetes, pain, sleep disturbances, sexual and reproductive dysfunction, memory problems, allergies, skin disorders, unexplained hair loss, increased periodontal disease, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
General guidelines for reducing stress include: