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How your stress is impacting your body

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Everyone experiences stress at some point in life. Positive stress or pressure is normal to an extent, like the stress we feel when an upcoming deadline looms. It can focus our energy and be highly motivating, this stress feels like something we can cope with and some people feel it brings out the best in them. Negative stress on the other hand can cause anxiety, feelsexhaustingoverwhelming and actually hinders performance especially when stress is experienced for a longer period of time resulting in burnout. It can not only affect our mental well-being, but it can also have an adverse effect on our physical health. Stress can come in many forms, such as financial strain, work pressure, relationship conflicts, and health problems. We feel stress when pressure or demands on us feel bigger than our perceived ability to cope. 

Many of us are familiar with the feeling of stress and the impact it has on us mentally. Yet we may be unaware of the ways in which it can damage our bodies. Stress affects our body in numerous ways. When we experience stress, our body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can trigger our "fight or flight" response in our nervous system. As humans this is the state we have evolved to have, for cave people it was being able to run away from danger, literally for survival. It’s the reason that we can react seemingly without thinking by stepping back onto the pavement if we see a car coming towards us on a road. This “fight or flight” mode can lead to physical changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. When we’re in this state our body is physically focusing all it’s energy on being ready for “fight or flight”, it causes our muscles to become more tense and our digestion to slow. It doesn’t matter if the stress at hand doesn’t require a physical response, this is how our bodies have evolved to manage stress. In the short term, these changes are helpful as they prepare our bodies to deal with the stressor at hand. However, our bodies are not designed to be in this state all the time. Considering the physical impacts long-term stress can impactnearly every system in our body, leading to various negative health outcomes. One common effect of long-term stress is cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. When we experience stress, our body releases stress hormones, which can cause our heart rate to increase, and blood vessels to constrict. If this occurs too frequently or for an extended period, it can cause long-term damage to the cardiovascular system. Another consequence of prolonged stress is digestive issues, such as digestive issues and acid reflux. Stress hormones that slow down the digestive process, causing bloating, nausea, and abdominal discomfort. Long-term stress can also lead to weight gain and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Stress can also cause problems with our immune system, making us more susceptible to infections and diseases. When we are stressed, our body releases cortisol, which can weaken the immune system and impair its ability to fight off infections. This is also on top of the mental impacts of stress, leading to anxiety, depression, and burnout. It can impact our sleep, our ability to focus and make decisions, and can even contribute to substance abuse. 

Therefore we can see that reducing stress can be important for both mental and physical health.  If we’re thinking of stress as pressure or demands feeling bigger than our perceived ability to cope we can close that gap and reduce stress. We can do this by either reducing the pressure or demands upon us (either actually reducing them or reducing the perception of them). Or by increasing our own perceived ability to cope with these demands. If we feel able to cope with demands we’re facing, we will therefore feel less stressed, reduce or turn off the “fight or flight” activation in our bodies and reduce the feeling of stress by switching our bodies into our “rest and digest” mode which causes our heart rate to slow, breathing to normalise, muscles to soften and digestion to increase.  

Physical impacts of stress

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