How Does Stress Affect Health?

Dr. Peter Lind
Published on: October 2012
Stage III. Exhaustion - this is the final stage of stress. Cells lose function, become less effective, and begin to die. Blood sugar levels drop and cells don't receive nutrients. Organs become weak. The heart, blood vessels, and adrenal glands are put through tremendous demands that will eventually drive a person in this stage into significant ill-health. Unless this stage is rapidly reversed, vital organs cease functioning and the person dies.
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The Brain and the Effects of Stress
Chronic stress affects the brain. Stress-related hormones alter physical structures in the brain, the hippocampus, in ways that affect memory, learning, and mood. Take a look at what happens after a major trauma. The three cycles of stress are accelerated and this varies only in degrees between people and how they can handle the stress.

People that have experienced post-traumatic stress syndrome have high levels of cortisol that shrink the size of the brain. The stressful experience must be addressed appropriately otherwise the stress response will continue progressing.

Another part of the brain that is affected by stress is the amygdala, the part that regulates fear and other emotions. During chronic stress the amygdala grows larger while the hippocampus shrinks. The amygdala is the seat of emotions and the hippocampus is the place of memory.

As the amygdala grows in size, anxiety and fear are the major emotions sensed. (The amygdala becomes larger and more active in people who are depressed). But because the hippocampal cells involved in memory are shrinking and not transmitting information effectively, a person can't connect the feelings of fear to memories of real events. This is how and why emotions are produced after significant stress and can alter a person's emotional state.

How is stress impacting your life? How is stress affecting your health? How is it affecting your mind? Have you noticed your emotions change when you are stressed?
Start your care by monitoring yourself. When your heart rate or blood pressure increase is it because of physical activity or from an emotional event that you played out in your head? When does your breathing rate change? When do you sweat more; at night, in the afternoon?

All these physiological signs give tremendous clues to how you are dealing with stress. Your first job is to begin to notice when they are happening. But next, you need to determine what kinds of stress are causing them to take place. Finally, the appropriate management of the stress and your physical and emotional output needs to be applied.
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