The Effect on the body
Stress is a disturbance of the normal balance of mental and physical health, and arises from a difference between the demand on a person and their ability to cope with that demand. It affects the whole body’s functions, especially the nervous and endocrine systems. It lowers the immune system, leaving us more prone to illness, and causes a loss in concentration, leaving us more prone to accidents.
The Nervous System and Stress
Messages from the nervous system are transmitted by electrical impulses, which travel to the muscles and glands of the body, controlling all our functions of the internal organs, movement, perception, thoughts and emotions.
The autonomic nervous system controls the internal environment of the body e.g. Breathing, heart rate, physical responses to emotions. Stress effects the involuntary system, by releasing adrenaline, stimulating the nerves, which cause the hands to get sweaty, mouth to dry, stomach to churn, feeling of breathlessness and feeling giddy.
The Endocrine System and Stress
The endocrine system interacts with the nervous system, which co-ordinates bodily functions in a network of communications. It uses the body’s chemical messengers (hormones) which move through the blood stream reaching every cell in the body, this can either be rapid or a delayed response.
The hormones normally help maintain a constant environment inside the body, but can also trigger swift dramatic response whenever illness or injury strike, or when the brain perceives danger.
The response to stress is quick, leading the Adrenal medulla to release two hormones;
- Adrenaline – which causes dilation in the bronchioles, so allowing the lungs to take in more air, it raises the blood pressure, stimulates cardiac output, making the heart beat faster and causes the release of glycogen from the liver for muscular activity.
- Noradrenalin – which causes vasoconstriction, except of the coronary arteries, it helps to maintain blood pressure, but does not stimulate general metabolism.
The adrenal glands play a large part in the immune response, secreting hormones that trigger responses to some of the processes and body adjustments. Prolonged stress may sensitise adrenaline in an alarming way, releasing nerves to produce symptoms of stress in an alarming way which lowers the body’s resistance to infections, as the adrenals become exhausted. A fear-adrenaline-fear cycle is produced, nausea, vomiting, intermittent diarrhoea, frequent desire to urinate may be experienced. Other symptoms as a direct result of stress may be palpitations, sharp pains under the breast bone, lack of interest in anything, restlessness, panic spasms and tensed muscles.
The cells of the body constantly contract and relax, but when stress occurs this is not as regulated as it should be, and the nutrition and cleansing of the cellular structure is not as free flowing as it should be.
If the circulation maybe upset, so the blood flow isn’t maintained and organs don’t receive sufficient blood supply. An overdose of emotional stress, certainly puts pressure on the heart, and the raises blood pressure which then increases the heart rate which have a harmful effect on the body. The lack of blood supply to the stomach and bowel may cause gastro-intestinal disorders for example ulcers.
Stress can also cause allergic responses in people, e.g. when stressed a person may produce an asthmatic attack in response to an irritant, but may not produce the same response when calmer and happier.
Back pain is often caused by the tensing and non-releasing of shoulder and neck muscles, or the tensing of flabby unprepared muscles can cause the lower back to go into spasm.
So powerful is the effect of extreme stress on the body that the brain manufactures it’s own opiate pain relievers called ‘endorphines’, and mood elevators , ‘enkephalins’, similar to morphine, but more powerful. There are such stories as one from the Second World War of a soldier giving no sign of pain when his arm was shattered.
Stress related diseases today derive from the inappropriateness of the ‘flight and flight’ response in a mismatch between lifestyle and instinct.
Physical and Psychological Reactions to Stress
Personal reaction to stress varies , but some of the following are likely to be present:
Short term Physical Reactions;
Cold sweaty hands
Visual disturbances, such as blurring or watery eyes.
Dry mouth / difficulty in swallowing/ lump in the throat
Breathlessness or a tight feeling in the chest
Heart rate , and pulse racing / increase in blood pressure
Butterflies in the stomach / knotted feeling in the stomach
Frequent need to empty bladder / Diarrhoea / nausea / vomiting
Tense muscles, aches, pains and trembling.
Fidgety / clumsy/ restlessness /accident prone.
Laughing / giggling/ crying
Hyperventilation / pins and needles.
Long term Physical effects;
Weak spots begin to surface and play up;
Toxins deposited in the muscular system, especially around the shoulders
Neck / back and leg pains
Skin rashes / eczema
Constipation / diarrhoea
Over eating / loss of appetite, causing increase or decrease in weight
Lowered immune system causing illnesses
Menstruation – irregular or stops altogether
Constantly jittery/ nervy/ impatient/can’t keep still / talking incessantly
Loss of sex drive
Sweating or crying for no apparent reason.
Short term Psychological Reactions;
Panic / freeze
Mental blocks / can’t think clearly
Anxious / confused / forgetful
Take avoiding action
Stare into space
Escape / get away from it all
Insecure / frightened
Long Term Psychological effects;
Anxiety – over anxious and worried about the future
Paranoia or over suspicious
Lack of confidence / fear of rejection / low self esteem
Withdrawal – turning in on yourself
Loss of concentration
Loss of reality and perspective
Inability to make decisions for yourself or others
Difficulty in seeing another point of view.
Can’t bear to be alone.
Some of the above short term reactions are common at some time during our lives, however an accumulation of continuing stress reactions over a period of time, without regaining balance, can become a way of life. A refusal to recognise or accept the messages of overloading can lead to short or long term illnesses
Positive Reactions to Stress;
We can however use the situation we are in that is causing us stress positively;
Flash of clear thinking
Motivation to action
Best work is sometimes done under stress
Able to be more positive
Next time we will look at the distress and well being cycles
Join Our Newsletter
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.