stress

Science sheds light on how stress can make you sick and tired

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James

Stress can sometimes become a gateway to a large number of health issues. Moreover, if it’s left untreated, it can even kill you. With the stressful modern lifestyle, we are constantly living in a state of stress. Every day, we are exposed to so many stressful stimuli. These stimuli put a lot of strain on our mind leaving us tired and exhausted.

To put in perspective that how common stress issue has become; following are some statistics about stress as per the American Institute of Stress:

 

U.S Stress StatsData
People who constantly suffer from physical symptoms of stress. 77%
Experience psychological symptoms of stress.73%
Believe that they are living under severe stress.33%
Feel like their stress level has increased in the past 5 years.48%
Think money and work are the main cause of stress.76%
Experienced sleeplessness due to stress.48%

 

You can see from the above stats that many people suffer from stress. This can negatively affects their day to day life. And if stress becomes too severe, it can cause people to experience mental and physical issues. This article is dedicated to discussing the effects of stress on your health. Moreover, we will discuss how can you manage this stress.

 

Different ways stress can affect your health and make you tired:

Stress slowly drains energy from the body because it is a mechanism designed to warn us about a dangerous situation. That is when our flight and fight response kicks in, and the adrenaline starts rushing through our body. In today’s modern world, we are constantly subjected to stressful situations. For instance, running late to work, or school, or deadline from the boss. This keeps us in a state of high alert all the time. This causes our bodies to start wearing down faster than usual. It’s because we can’t find time to be in a relaxed state of mind.

Most people don’t understand how well connected our body and mind are. If either one gets affected negatively, other is effected as well. Dr. Esther Sternberg, a professor in medicine and founding research director at Arizona Center for integrative medicine, has done detailed research on the connection between the mind and body. Her study focused on finding out the relationship between our nervous system and the immune system and how immune molecules present in our blood can affect our brain functioning. In her bestselling book titled “The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions,” she explains how emotions especially stress affects our physical health.

A part of her book explains how the part of our brain is responsible for dealing with stress can also play a role in developing certain diseases:

By studying these chemical components, we can understand how emotions affect disease.

The part of the brain that controls stress response also helps in fighting diseases that cause inflammation such as arthritis. And because the same parts of the brain control stress and the inflammatory response, it starts to become clear that why people, who are suffering from inflammatory disorders, also suffer from depression at some point in life. So, instead of blaming these diseases on mental issues, we should understand that although feelings are not directly linked with diseases, they certainly have biological effects that can contribute to the cause of diseases. Many nerves and molecules that directly impact mental functions, as well as inflammatory responses, are one and the same. So, it is possible that a mental health issue can cause physical health issues along with it.

We are just now understanding how emotional memories present in our brain can affect the parts of our brain that control the stress hormones. And, in the end, how these emotions can affect the immune system functions that can lead to affecting diseases such as cancer and arthritis. We are also getting to know how the signals from the immune system can affect our emotional and physical health. While studying all these relationships between mind and body, the gap between mind and body seems to be shrinking.

She then explains how constant stress stimuli that we experience daily can affect the response to the stimuli:

Every minute throughout the day, we experience thousands of sensations. These sensations either produce a positive response or a negative response. For instance, making you feel happy would be a positive response. Similarly, if it makes you feel sad, it is a negative response. Furthermore, there are some situations when we don’t feel any emotion at all such as faint music, a light smell or a distant shadow. There are some responses that can happen due to both positive and negative emotions. If we feel a negative emotion, we can start to sweat and if an emotion is positive we might end up smiling, or it can happen due to no emotion at all. What makes this sensory process of sensing stimuli and reacting to it an emotion is a charge that gets attached to them in our brain.

Memory also plays a key role when it comes to our response during a stressful situation. Because if a negative memory is recalled due to a present event, it can cause you to feel sad in an instant.

Sternberg further writes:

The mood is not always the same as a creamy soup. It is more like Swiss cheese instead that is full of holes. Mood can be triggered by very specific and memories such as a fragrance, specific music, a situation that resembles a sad memory from your past that is deep in your mind but not deleted. These sensory inputs are sent through the parts of the brain that control memory and return with emotions attached to that particular memory. These memories are then connected to emotions, and they are dealt with in other parts of the brain. These parts of our brain are connected through nerves and coordinate signals between thought and memory.

The sensory input can either trigger a positive emotion or a negative one depending upon the memories attached to the memory from the past.

Sternberg explains what happens in our brain when we are stressed:

Whenever a stressful event happens, our brain releases adrenal hormones which is the brain’s stress response. Adrenal glands are also activated releasing adrenaline, and sympathetic nerves release adrenaline throughout the body. This causes the heart to beat fast, and hairs stand up all over the body causing us to sweat. We may even feel an urge to defecate, and your vision becomes more clear and focused with a surge or power in your body to help you run. If this state of stress lasts too long, your body will continue to pump these hormones to the body, and this can be harmful to your health.

She explains how stress is harmful to the immune system

Our nervous system and hormones react to stimuli within moments. However, our immune system takes days or longer to respond to a threat. So, it is unlikely that a short stress response can trigger the immune system. However, if the stress response is prolonged it negatively affects the immune system. Immune cells in our body never get to recover from the stressful situation because our body is constantly in a state of high alert and releases cortisol. Cortisol is known to mute the cell and makes them unable to defend the body against external invaders. So, if we are exposed to the common cold virus when our body is in a state of rest, our immune system is less likely to defend the body against it.

 

Managing stress

Now that you know how stress can affect your physical health let’s see how we can handle stress to prevent it from harming our health.

  1. Lifestyle changes: Try to exercise at least 30 minutes each day and don’t smoke or drink. Keep your diet balanced and take regular breaks from work.
  2. Relaxation techniques: Try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to reduce stress and help your body relax.
  3. Herbal solutions: Now, there are some herbal remedies available for managing stress. The best thing is that these herbal remedies are relatively easy to access. You can use a supplement of herbs such as valerian root, chamomile, and 5-HTP. All of these have been known to fight stress and help you stay in a relaxes state.