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In today’s world, it feels like you’re constantly being pulled in 15 different directions. There are demands at work, deadlines to meet, and a nasty boss to please. There’s pressure at home with bills that need paying, windows that need washing, and laundry that needs put away. And then, there’s life with your partner, children, parents, family, friends, finances, and more. It’s no wonder many American are stressed out.
What many people don’t understand is what stress actually does to you. Yes, you know it keeps you up at night, and it makes you binge on Oreos, but that’s only the beginning. Here are five different ways your body reacts when you’re dealing with stress, whether it’s a crisis, something unexpected, or the day-to-day grind. By understanding what’s happening to your body and why it happens, you’re able to be your own health hero and live the best life you can.
The body’s natural response to stress is to do one of two things: fight or flight. In nature, our ancient ancestors’ stressors were life-threatening, whether it was a tornado or a pack of wild dogs. The only options were to stand and fight or run away as fast as they could. While those options aren’t as viable today, your body doesn’t know that and automatically prepares you by inducing the acute stress response system.
While the fight or flight mechanism tenses your muscles to prepare you for whatever’s coming your way, the brain releases a range of stress hormones, particularly cortisol and epinephrine, commonly referred to as adrenaline. These chemicals boost your energy and keep you focused on the task at hand. They increase heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. These hormones also cause the liver to increase the production of glucose, giving you another energy boost. Yet in today’s world and with modern stressors, the extra sugar boost isn’t needed and can end up being problematic for those who are under chronic stress and predisposed to type 2 diabetes.
Cortisol increases the body’s inflammation response, which in turn lowers the immune system. For the brief time it takes to respond to stress, this doesn’t have much of an impact, but for those with chronic stress, it’s huge. Colds are more severe and last longer. You’re more prone to infections and likely to get sick when someone around you is ill. For those who go through a period of intense chronic stress, such as taking care of a loved one with a terminal illness, this same inflammation can cause hair to thin and fall out.
When you’re stressed, the body naturally pulls water and moisture from the skin, perhaps to utilize it during exertion to keep you hydrated. Over time, the skin dries out, especially the outer layers which naturally lose more moisture. Your dry, dehydrated skin begins to lose its ability to heal and regenerate. This slows the healing process and leaves you more likely to have lingering cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Keep an eye on these wounds. Your immune system is already weakened, so you’re more likely to get infections.
Does stress ever cause you to get butterflies in your stomach? How about the sudden urge to go to the bathroom? Has it ever gotten so bad, you’ve felt the need to throw up? Well, you’re not alone. Stress hormones are known to upset the stomach, induce vomiting, and even cause diarrhea.
Find this and other health-promoting articles by Dr. Partha Nandi on his website, Ask Dr. Nandi.
A survivor of rheumatic heart disease, Dr. Partha Nandi M.D., F.A.C.P. grew up to become one of America’s leading patient advocates. His devotion towards educating and empowering others to “Be Your Own Health Hero” stemmed from the empathy and care he received from his father and his first Health Hero, Dr. Chandrasekhar, during his 10 day stay in the hospital and yearlong recovery.
After graduating at the top of his class and obtaining a medical degree at Wayne State University, Dr. Partha Nandi completed his gastroenterology fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and has been a practicing physician for over 20 years. Throughout his career, Dr. Nandi authored several publications and spoke at TedX, college commencements, charity events, and international conferences, advocating ways to improve the quality and access to health care. He has also collaborated with The World Health Organization and partnered with the Ministries of Health in Jamaica and India.
Dr. Partha Nandi currently practices gastroenterology full-time in Detroit, Michigan, where he holds the title of Chief Health Editor for WXYZ ABC Detroit. He is also the creator and host of a medical lifestyle television show, Ask Dr. Nandi, and a speaker at conferences and premier medical meetings to share his mission and empower everyone “To Be Your Own Health Hero.”