Recognize these effects of stress?

The effects of stress are real, they are palpable, and they are impacting our health. Last night, I heard a brilliant interview about the effects of stress on the radio with Dr. Robert Sapolsky, professor of biological sciences, neurology, and neurological sciences at Stanford.

He described our stress response in terms of what happens when an antelope is being chased through the Serengeti by a tiger. In that moment, the antelope’s number one goal is survival. In order to survive, she needs lots of extra energy to make her legs run fast. That energy comes from several other systems in her body, such as: the digestive system, the reproductive system, and the immune system. If the tiger gets her, the fact that her breakfast is undigested does not matter. The energy from those systems is used to raise her heart rate and send extra blood-flow to her legs.

Stressed Woman

Our human stress response system works in a similar way. When we are stressed, our body thinks that we are fighting for survival. In response to stress, hormones such as cortisol, adrenalin, and glucocorticoids are released. It is these hormones that raise our blood pressure and divert energy from our body systems in preparation to save our life. The problem is that what we are attempting to save ourselves from is our blackberry, our boss’ expectations, demands at home, or a fight with our spouse. Essentially, we are stressed out by our own thoughts…in some ways, those are harder to get away from than a tiger.

When our lives are filled with this type of chronic stress, our bodies take the brunt of the fallout from continuously being in survival mode. The effects of stress include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Elevated stress hormones
  • Decreased ability to focus
  • Intestinal disturbances
  • Reduced fertility / Changes in menstrual cycle
  • Increased levels of anxiety and depression
  • Headache
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Decreased motivation
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Change in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to focus
  • While many of the above are symptoms, they are the pre-cursors to some of Americas leading diseases. We cannot say that stress is the sole cause of disease; things like genetics and environment certainly play a role. However, stress does predispose us to developing…

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Adult-onset diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Frequent colds, flu, or infection
  • Slower healing time
  • Though the natural stress response our body has can be a challenge to our health, we are also a highly intelligent and developed species that is able to make conscious choices. Some level of periodic stress can motivate us to get things done, but if you recognize that your body has begun to reflect the stress that you feel, it is time to make some changes. Reading this website is a great place to start. I will be writing lots more about dealing with stress; sign up for our newsletter and RSS feed to make sure you catch the upcoming articles. Another essential stress management practice is deep, conscious breathing.

    To learn more about Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s research and insights, an article based on a lecture of his can be found here.

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