What meets the eye when you look at yourself in the mirror seldom reflects what lies buried beneath. The ancient art and science of yoga conjectures the presence of three bodies and not just one ~ the physical body, the astral body (our sensation of pain and pleasure), and the causal body (or the seed body, which is a summation of our samskaras – mental impressions, recollections, or psychological imprints). Reaching the stage of anandmaya kosh (the sheath of bliss), which rests in the seed body, is the ultimate aim of every evolved individual. And the very reason why we are stressed, anxious, and depressed by our circumstances is the disconnect we feel between our true selves and the struggle for daily existence.
The stress response is an evolutionary one! The adrenal gland goes into overdrive, sending cortisol and adrenaline rushing through your blood system. It, therefore, prepares the body for a “fight or flight” situation, which may help an individual survive where the threat and danger are imminent. However, imagine perpetually staying at that stage where a cocktail of stress hormones continually runs in your bloodstream. You will constantly feel on the edge, anxious, and irritable. Sounds scary, right?! Well, it is!
Living with chronic stress isn’t good news for your body, both psychologically and physiologically. So, in the following text, we will attempt to decode the repercussions of living in a constant state of undue stress and anxiety on the different organ systems of the body.
What is It?
Psychologists classify stress into two categories – Eustress and Distress. As the names suggest, eustress or good stress is like the minimum voltage required to light a bulb; this is the stress that gets us going and stops us from procrastinating. In contrast, distress or bad stress is an overload of the stress mechanism. For instance, the bulb’s filament may fuse when the voltage increases beyond a certain level. This kind of stress makes you stay on the edge even when no imminent threat or stressor is in sight.
Each one of us experiences some level of stress daily. It could be approaching deadlines, the fear of getting handed the pink slip without job security, relationship issues, etc. However, when the levels of stress go through the roof consistently, you know that you have a problem to address because this can not only lead to depression, irritability, persistent headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and other mood disorders but can also wreak havoc with your physical body!
The Brain and Central Nervous System
The nervous system can be categorized into CNS (Central Nervous System including the brain and the spinal cord) and PNS (Peripheral Nervous System, which can be further split into somatic and autonomic nervous systems). The ANS, or the Autonomic Nervous System (including the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems), has a significant role to play in the physical manifestation of stress. Under stress, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into action and prepares for the “fight or flight mode.”
It signals the hypothalamus in the brain to signal the adrenal glands to begin secreting adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase heartbeat and augment blood flow toward the heart, the muscles, and other important organs that will help the body fight-or-flight or flight situation. Once the perceived stressor is not apparent, the hypothalamus will signal the parasympathetic nervous system to take over, and energy will be directed to other tasks, such as digestion, once a sense of peace and calm has been restored.
However, in cases of chronic stress, the body tends to display digestive issues, alcohol dependence, substance abuse, etc.
Physiologically speaking, air goes through the nose, enters the throat larynx, and reaches the bronchi in the lungs through the trachea. The bronchioles then exchange oxygenated air with the RBCs in the blood vessels, transmitting it to the rest of the tissues and organs in the body.
The respiratory system transfers oxygen-rich blood to cells in the organ systems and flushes away carbon dioxide in return. The advent of stress and the onslaught of negative emotions can constrict the tracheal airway resulting in rapid breathing and shortness of breath. This can be managed by people who don’t have pre-existing respiratory issues such as asthma and emphysema. However, it may exacerbate respiratory issues in those already suffering from respiratory disorders.
The cardiovascular system comprises the interplay of two elements – the heart and the network of blood vessels. They work in tandem to supply oxygen-rich blood to different body parts. Under conditions of stress, they display a coordinated set of physiological responses. Short-term or acute stress resulting from unmet deadlines or traffic jams can result in an increased heart rate induced by the enhanced contractions of the smooth cardiovascular muscles as instructed by the stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol).
The blood vessels responsible for supplying blood to the heart and the large muscles undergo dilation, thereby increasing blood pressure. Once the stressor has been eliminated, the sympathetic nervous system hands over the reins to the parasympathetic nervous system.
Under cases of chronic stress, the elevated heart rate, consistent doses of stress hormones in the bloodstream, and increased blood pressure put the individual at an increased risk of contracting hypertension, stroke, or heart attack.
Ironically, the temporary or acute system boosts the body’s immune responses to stave off threats in the immediate vicinity. However, in the case of chronic stress, the body’s immune system weakens, resulting in the body’s limited capacity to fight antigens.
Not only does one’s susceptibility to common viruses like the rhinovirus increase, but the time taken for recuperation also witnesses an uptick.
It is no secret that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other identities within the LGBTQ+ spectrum often face unique challenges in their lives. In addition to the usual stressors and difficulties that all people experience, they...
As stressed earlier, the body, mind, and soul are inexorably and intricately connected. Once the balance gets disrupted, or the equilibria tilt towards one direction, chaos will descend. When the individual perceives a threatful situation, the brain triggers a cascade of events, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, to help the person survive.
The HPA axis drives the production of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which include cortisol. The pituitary gland signals the adrenal gland located above the kidney to generate cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for mobilizing energy obtained from glucose and fatty acids.
Under normal circumstances, cortisol is produced in varying levels throughout the day, with the peak post-awakening and lesser levels towards the end of the day, resulting in a regulated energy cycle. In fight-or-flight situations, cortisol levels witness a spike to provide the energy required for a confrontation or escape.
In case of a consistent state of chronic stress, the immune system and the HPA axis witness impaired communication. This can result in multiple physical and mental health conditions, such as chronic fatigue, immune disorders, metabolic disorders (diabetes), and depression.
The gastrointestinal system is home to millions of independently functioning neurons that play a role in the brain-gut axis or channel of communication. Under stressful situations, activities controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system are put on hold to direct energy to other areas of the body useful in mobility. This can result in indigestion, bloating, and diarrhea, affecting how food moves in your gastrointestinal tract.
The liver produces extra sugar in cases of stress to provide resources for energy production. When the stress becomes chronic, the body cannot keep up with the increased surge of sugar, resulting in higher chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
Changes in the gut bacteria also influence one’s mood, thereby explaining the interconnection between gut health and serotonin production.
Have you noticed your fingers curl up and your calves experience a sudden onset of unexplained tightness whenever you are confronted with adverse situations? Well, that’s because muscular tension is the body’s natural response to stressful scenarios in order o avoid injury.
However, when you live in a chronic state of stress and anxiety, your muscles don’t get a chance to relax, and you might start noticing lower back pain or pain in the extremities. Also, tension-induced headaches and migraines have been known to be linked with chronic muscular tension in the shoulders, neck, and back.
Under states of chronic stress, the libido or sexual desire of both men and women takes a hit.
Elevated levels of cortisol can affect the biochemical functioning of the male reproductive system. Chronic stress can result in decreased testosterone levels, lower libido, and even erectile dysfunction, and impotence.
Women who balance the demands of caring for a family alongside professional obligations may experience a decrease in sexual desire due to the pressures and stresses involved. If they are planning to conceive, unmanaged stress can also wreak havoc on their cycles and the ability to conceive.
How to Cope
Now that’s a lot of information to process! Cease to worry because help is at hand. It is possible to keep your stress levels in check without spending a bomb. Here’s how you can sail through life without letting the wind get to your sails!
- Make time for regular physical exercise. The human body was not meant to do sedentary jobs, so keep those muscles moving!
- Get regular sleep and practice immaculate sleep-time hygiene.
- Eat a balanced diet to eliminate nutritional disorders.
- Get some Sun!
The list is indicative and not exhaustive in nature!
Get Help From a Trusted Therapist With DocVita Today
If you or a loved one are facing issues with managing your stress levels, please know that suffering alone is not a great option with all the help at hand! With numerous experienced and trained mental health professionals available through DocVita, you can easily book an appointment with a therapist who speaks the same language as you and give yourself the support, the anchor, and the empathetic understanding of a fellow human.