When our alarm system sparks danger
If your mind and body are constantly on edge because of excessive stress, you may face serious health problems, say US experts at the Mayo Clinic. That’s because your body’s fight-or-flight reaction — its alarm system — is always on.
Your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located near your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol also curbs functions that would be non-essential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
Long-term activation of the stress-response system can put you at increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and depression, blood pressure and diabetes complications, say Mayo Clinic staff.
HOW YOUR BODY REACTS TO STRESS
Head: Headaches, bad mood and irritability, anger, depression, sadness, lack of energy and motivation, memory impairment, swings in appetite, problems concentrating and sleeping, pain and mental health and drug and alcohol issues.
Skin: Acne and worsening of eczema.
Joints and muscles: Aches and pains, tension, lowered bone density.
Heart: Increased blood pressure, increased heartbeat, higher cholesterol and instances of heart attack.
Stomach: Cramps, reflux, nausea, weight fluctuations, overeating and undereating.
Intestines: Irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhoea and constipation.
Reproductive system: Reduced sex drive, lowered sperm production, increased pain during period.
Immune system: Reduced ability to battle and recover from illness.
Generations: Those over the age of 65 report the lowest stress levels and are most likely to say they are managing that stress well, while Gen-Xers (32 to 45-year-olds) are most likely to report physical symptoms of stress and are more likely to say they rely on unhealthy behaviours to manage their stress, according to the American Psychological Association study Stress in America 2012.
Gender: Women are more likely to report physical symptoms associated with stress, but they are doing a better job at connecting with others in their lives and using this as stress management, according to the American Psychological Association study.
Source: LifelineWA, mayoclinic.com and American Psychological Association.
© The West Australian
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