We all experience stress from time to time. It is something that is part of the emotional ups and downs of life. The sources of stress are many. It may have its origin in our environment, in our body, or in our own thoughts and in how we see the world around us. Feeling stressed in times of pressure, like the exam period, is most natural, but we are psychologically designed to deal with it and react.
When we feel under pressure, our nervous system instructs the body to release stress hormones , such as adrenaline and cortisol, that produce physiological changes in order to help us cope with the threat or danger we see coming upon us. It is what is called “stress response” or “fight or flight” reaction.
Actually, stress can be positive , since the response to it helps us to be alert, motivated and focused on the task at hand. Normally, when stress subsides, the body regains balance and we feel at ease again. But when we experience stress too often or for too long, or when negative feelings are higher than our ability to get ahead, problems arise. The continuous activation of the nervous system – when experiencing the “stress response” – causes the body to wear down .
When we are stressed, the respiratory system suffers the effect immediately . It usually costs us more to breathe and we do it faster in an attempt to quickly bring oxygen-rich blood to the body. Although this is not a problem for most of us, it can be for people with asthma, who may feel short of breath and struggle to get enough oxygen. It can also cause the respiration to accelerate and be superficial, so that the air aspirated is minimal, which can lead to hyperventilation. The likelihood of this happening is greater if the person is prone to anxiety and panic attacks.
Stress wreaks havoc on the immune system . The cortisol released in the body inhibits both this system and the inflammatory pathways, so we become more vulnerable to infections and chronic inflammation. Our ability to defend ourselves from the disease is reduced.
The musculo skeletal system also suffers the effects. The muscles are tense, which is the natural way that our body has to protect us from wounds and pain. Repeated muscle tension can cause discomfort and pain in the body, and when this occurs in the shoulders, neck and head, it can result in tension headaches and migraines .
Cardiovascular effects also occur. When the stress is acute (at that precise moment), the heart rate and blood pressure rise , but return to normal once it has passed. If acute stress is experienced repeatedly or if the stress becomes chronic (if it lasts for a long period of time), it can cause damage to the veins and arteries. This increases the risk of hypertension, heart attacks or heart attacks.
The endocrine system suffers equally . This system plays an important role in the regulation of mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism and reproductive processes. The metabolism is affected. The hypothalamus is located in the brain and plays a key role in the connection of the endocrine system with the nervous system. Stress signals from the hypothalamus trigger the release of stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine, and the liver produces blood sugar (glucose) to provide us with energy that allows us to cope with the stressful situation. Most people absorb supplemental glucose when the stress decreases, but for some people this poses a higher risk of diabetes.
Stress can have unpleasant gastrointestinal effects . We can suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, especially if we have changed eating habits to eat more or less, or we have increased the consumption of fatty or sweet foods. The ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients from what we eat can be reduced, and we can suffer from stomach pain, bloating and nausea, diarrhea or constipation.
Also, we can have problems with the reproductive system. In the case of men, chronic stress can affect the production of testosterone and sperm . It can even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Women can suffer changes in the menstrual cycle and more premenstrual symptoms.
Stress can have a noticeable effect on emotional well-being. In everyday life it is normal to experience emotional ups and downs, but when we are stressed we may feel more tired, have mood swings or feel more irritable than usual. Stress causes hyperexcitation , which means that we may have difficulty sleeping or falling asleep, and maybe we will spend the night awake. This is detrimental to concentration, attention, learning and memory, all of which is especially important at the time of exams. Researchers have linked sleep deprivation with chronic health problems, depression and even obesity .
The way we deal with stress has another indirect effect on our health. When under pressure, people can adopt harmful habits, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs to relieve stress. But these behaviors are inadequate ways to adapt and only bring more health problems and more risks to personal safety and well-being.
So learn to manage your stress before it handles you. There is more to keep it under control. Having some stress in life is normal, and a small dose can help us be alert, motivated, focused, full of energy and even excited. Take positive steps to effectively channel that energy and you will perform more, achieve more things and feel good.