Stress—What It Does to Us
What happens when you dash for a bus or a train? You can no doubt feel how your body responds by increasing your blood pressure and making your heart beat faster. Even if you miss your ride, your heart rate and breathing generally return to normal.
IF YOU are dealing with a long-term stressful situation, though, it may be different. Anxiety, muscle tension, increased blood pressure, and disturbed digestion may take longer to return to normal. More and more people find that the tension never goes away. For instance, many feel trapped in a dead-end job. How does stress affect your body and your health?
Your Body’s Reaction to Stress
Dr. Arien van der Merwe, an expert on the subject, explains how your body reacts to stress. It instantly kicks into action, and a complex “stress cascade of neurochemicals and hormones rushes through your entire body, preparing every organ and system for the Red Alert stress response.”
You are immediately ready to take out-of-the-ordinary action. All your senses—including sight, hearing, and touch—are involved. Your brain quickly reacts, and your adrenal glands instantly release powerful hormones, revving up your muscles as well as your heart, lungs, and other organs for whatever might be needed to handle the stressful situation.
Thus in an emergency your body’s stress response may save your life, such as when it makes you leap out of the way of an oncoming car. It is a completely different matter, however, when stress is unrelenting.
When Stress Becomes an Enemy
What if your body is constantly revved up? Your muscles remain tense, your pulse rate and blood pressure stay high, and elevated levels of cholesterol, fats, sugars, hormones, and other chemicals linger in the blood. Prolonged elevated levels of such chemicals—meant for short, intense, and infrequent bursts of activity—eventually damage important body organs. With what consequences?
You may begin experiencing backaches, headaches, muscle spasms of the neck, and muscle tension. According to doctors, those symptoms are often related to chronic stress. Ongoing stress can hamper creativity and productivity, as well as erode enthusiasm and damage interpersonal relationships. It can also lead to irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and esophageal spasms. The consequences of chronic stress may even be more serious. Stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, cardiovascular problems, and diabetes may be caused by or made worse by prolonged stress.
“Because of the secretion of cortisol in long-term stress,” writes Van der Merwe, “fat tends to accumulate around the abdomen and back.” Skin disorders, such as eczema and psoriasis, are associated with—or aggravated by—stress. Severe stress has also been linked to depression, increased aggression, and burnout. Memory and concentration too can be permanently impaired by constant stress. An immune system seriously compromised by long-term stress can make a person vulnerable to anything from the common cold to cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Stress has a huge impact on all aspects of our well-being—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual—so we need to know how to control it. Yet, we do not want to eliminate the body’s stress response altogether. Why not?
We might liken stress to a spirited horse. It can give us an enjoyable and exhilarating ride. However, if it goes wildly out of control, it can endanger our life. Similarly, stress in manageable doses can make life enjoyable and exhilarating, providing us with the stimulus to be creative, productive, enthusiastic, and healthy.
How, though, can we keep stress at manageable levels so that we can get the most out of our life? The following article discusses effective ways to control stress and our response to it.
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“WONDERFULLY MADE” BY A WISE, LOVING CREATOR
Contrary to popular theory, our body’s reaction to stress is not a residue of prehistoric man’s response to the threat of mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. Rather, our intricate physiological systems have been skillfully shaped by a masterful Creator. For example, the blood’s complex clotting mechanism—its sophisticated capacity to fight infection and heal wounds—and the body’s elaborate stress response all bear testimony to a wise and loving Designer.
Those bodily systems confirm that “in a fear-inspiring way [we are] wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-16) God’s loving spiritual and physical provisions, as well as the marvelous way he created humans to enjoy life, ensure that nothing will cause pain, mourning, or death in the coming earthly Paradise.—Revelation 21:3-5.
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BAD EFFECTS OF PROLONGED STRESS ON THE BODY