How Your Body Reacts to Stress
An excerpt from How Your Body Reacts to Stress by Holly Blake
We all feel stressed from time to time – it’s all part of the emotional ups and downs of life. Stress has many sources, it can come from our environment, from our bodies, or our own thoughts and how we view the world around us. It is very natural to feel stressed around moments of pressure such as exam time – but we are physiologically designed to deal with stress, and react to it.
When we feel under pressure the nervous system instructs our bodies to release stress hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.
These produce physiological changes to help us cope with the threat or danger we see to be upon us. This is called the “stress response” or the “fight-or-flight” response.
Stress can actually be positive, as the stress response help us stay alert, motivated and focused on the task at hand. Usually, when the pressure subsides, the body rebalances and we start to feel calm again. But when we experience stress too often or for too long, or when the negative feelings overwhelm our ability to cope, then problems will arise. Continuous activation of the nervous system – experiencing the “stress response” – causes wear and tear on the body.
When we are stressed, the respiratory system is immediately affected. We tend to breathe harder and more quickly in an effort to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood around our body. Although this is not an issue for most of us, it could be a problem for people with asthma who may feel short of breath and struggle to take in enough oxygen. It can also cause quick and shallow breathing, where minimal air is taken in, which can lead to hyperventilation. This is more likely if someone is prone to anxiety and panic attacks.
The way that we cope with stress has an additional, indirect effect on our health. Under pressure, people may adopt more harmful habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs to relieve stress. But these behaviours are inappropriate ways to adapt and only lead to more health problems and risks to our personal safety and well-being.
So learn to manage your stress, before it manages you. It’s all about keeping it in check. Some stress in life is normal – and a little stress can help us to feel alert, motivated, focused, energetic and even excited. Take positive actions to channel this energy effectively and you may find yourself performing better, achieving more and feeling good.
How Your Body Reacts to Stress
BY HOLLY BLAKE
Blake, Holly. “How Your Body Reacts to Stress.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 9 Aug. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-happens-your-body-when-youre-stressed-180964357/.
Rachel Wixey & Associates
I have been genetically predisposed to anxiety and have been having panic attacks since I was in my early teens. I like this article because I am equipped with this knowledge to think about the next time I have a panic attack. I can help regulate myself by thinking about what is happening; focus on the facts rather than my spiraling thoughts and breathe through it.