The general reaction to a stressful situation, for example getting attacked is; Alarm, Resistance followed by exhaustion.
When you get stressed your body immediately prepares itself;
Your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and stress hormones are released.
The alarm phase cannot last for long though and soon you move over to the resistance faze.
During the resistance phase your body releases stress hormones, this faze can last for a long time, but slowly the bodies resources run out and we move on to the exhaustion faze.
The stress hormones released into your body have the side effect that they weaken the bodies immune system, which is why when you are stressed over a long time you are more prone to become ill.
The stress hormones affect the activity of the heart; long term stress can cause severe damage to the linings of the arteries and because of your reduced metabolism, a side-effect of the stress hormones, it can contribute the fatty blockages in the arteries that cause heart attacks and strokes.
When in the exhaustion phase your body’s resources are depleted and need to restore. Your body is at its weakest and your heart, metabolism and your lungs are negatively affected.
As you can see the bodies stress response isn’t made for long term stress, rather it is a reaction to a fight or flight situation. When you are stressed for a longer period of time it is like being prepared for an attack for months, this is why the bodies natural stress defense can hurt you in such terminal ways.
Because of your weakened immune system you are more likely to get colds, other infections and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and even sudden death.
Stress causes you to age faster
Aging has been found to be linked to our chromosomes. In our chromosomes there is something called a telomere, every time the chromosome divides (e.g. creates a new cell) the telomere grows shorter. When the telomere becomes too short the cell cannot divide any longer and the cell dies. Cell death is what produces weakening in the muscles and skin, which causes us to age.
Fortunately the body has an enzyme we call telomerase that helps counter telomere shortening, this enzyme can in affect slow the aging process.
When we are stressed though our levels of telomerase go down, this causes us to age faster.
Mental Dangers of Stress
Stress can have severe psychological effects such as depression, anxiety and unhappiness.
People who have lived through highly stressful events, such as the loss of a family member are at high risk to develop the above mentioned diseases as are those who have lived with stress for a long period of time.
You have probably been depressed or anxious many times in your life, which is okay. The problem is that long term stress can make these feelings chronic.
Stress is dangerous
As you can see, stress has many dangerous affects, both mental (depression, anxiety, unhappiness) and physical (higher risk of sickness such as Cancer, heart attacks, strokes, it causes obesity and to age faster).
It is obvious that reducing stress is important, but the question is how.
In the next part of this series we will be discussing the causes of stress and later how to counter act stress.