Devastating Effects of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress takes a serious toll on your body - it wears down your defense systems, diminishes your immunity, and damages your internal organs.
Chronic Stress and the Stress Response
When you face a threat, your hypothalamus initiates a cascade of chemicals that ultimately stimulate your adrenal glands, which release adrenergic chemicals and glucorticosteroids.
The adrenergic substances, like adrenaline, prepare your body to meet the threat. They cause your heart to speed up and beat harder, raise your blood pressure, and make you more alert. These powerful chemicals also divert the blood flow away from your skin, so you may feel cool and clammy, and from your digestive system. Glucorticosteroids cause your muscles to release stored energy.
Normally, when the threat is gone, the excess adrenergic hormones trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to release hormones that counteract the effects of stress hormones. Blood is diverted back to your skin and digestive system, and you can "rest and digest."
When you are chronically stressed, however, your stress response remains ramped up, and the stress hormones overwhelm the relaxation response. Stress hormones are beneficial in the short term because they give us the extra boost we need to meet an emergency; however, in the long run, they are harmful.
Anabolic and Catabolic Steroids
We've heard a lot about steroid abuse recently, especially among athletes. Most of the steroids they abuse are anabolic steroids, primarily testosterone, which builds muscle tissue.
Catabolic steroids, on the other hand, tear down muscle tissue. Stress steroids are catabolic, and they make your muscles tense and use more energy and oxygen. Stress hormones interfere with digestion, so you aren't sending fresh energy supplies to the muscles. They use up stored energy reserves first, and then they start breaking down the muscle cells themselves to create more energy. Chronic stress literally "eats at you."
Other Effects of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress ultimate injures all the organs that it stimulates. Your heart may become excessively excitable, and you may have an irregular heart rhythm as a result. It may be a minor irregularity, or it may be life threatening.
Chronic stress injures your arteries and contributes to the build up of cholesterol. This can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Chronic stress affects your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to illness. This may also increase your chance of getting certain types of cancer.
Chronic stress wears your body out. It makes you old before your time, makes you susceptible to many serious health problems, and it shortens your life.
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