Stress is actually a defense mechanism. We recognize a danger or threat, and our body primes us to think and act quickly. However, chronic stress (or daily, unrelenting feeling of pressure and panic) floods us with hormones that wreak havoc on our health and our emotions. Read these facts that show why too much stress is unhealthy.
How our body reacts to stressful situations
When we face a problem, our body sends out an internal 911 call: it alerts the amygdala (the decision-maker, or 911 controller), which then signals the hypothalamus or hormone production center to send out adrenaline, cortisol and epinephrine. Cortisol boosts our blood sugar so we have more energy at our disposal. Epinephrine makes our heart blood pump faster to bring oxygen into our muscles. You are now more alert and able to fight a problem or flee from it.
Back in the days when the problem was a saber tooth tiger who wanted to eat you, this stress mechanism would have saved your life. But unfortunately, the body can’t distinguish a “real” threat from an “imagined” threat. For example, a deadline may cause stress so you can work faster. Worrying about a deadline will produce the same flood of hormones even if it is “all in our head.”
This can lead to a constant, chronic state of stress as we rush from one responsibility to the other, and continue to think about the problems once we get home. Essentially, we are living in a 24-hour emergency. The saber tooth tiger doesn’t go away.
Chronic stress affects your brain
Numerous studies show that constant stress actually affects our brain structure. Since cortisol levels are always high, it hardwires the pathways between the amygdala and hippocampus so that we actually stay in a state of stress. There are also research that people who experienced severe and chronic stress in their youth were more prone to anxiety and mood problems.
Chronic stress affects your body
Stress has been linked to a higher risk for heart disease, heart attacks, angina and strokes. It overtaxes the heart and leads to blood pressure problems, and the amygdala prompts the body to produce extra white blood cells, which can cause inflammation of the arteries.
The flood of stress hormones also affect your testosterone levels, causing sexual dysfunction (such as lower libido or erectile dysfunction).
Cortisol can also affect your skin’s ability to produce collagen, which means you are more likely to experience fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, and dull skin.
Chronic stress affects your quality of life
Stress can lead to wild mood swings, which can affect relationships and our reputation at work or in the community. It can also escalate into depression, or trigger very unhealthy coping mechanisms: smoking, overeating, and drinking.
Stress management is an important part of your physical and emotional well-being.