Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus. But beyond your comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and can start causing major damage to your mind and body.
Stress hormones stimulate a preference for foods that are full of sugar, starch and fat which ultimately lead to weight gain. The stress response produces a rise in insulin levels and a fall in fat oxidation, a dual process that promotes fat storage in your body.
Stress may aggravate sleep deficits, making it especially hard for older people to get back to sleep when they wake up at night.
Stress can directly increase heart rate and blood flow, and causes the release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream. Research had suggested that cortisol actually changes the texture of white blood cells, encouraging the cells to attach themselves to blood vessel walls. The result is plaque, a key marker of heart disease.
Stress throws several brain neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine — out of balance, negatively affecting mood resulting in sadness, apprehension, agitation and irritability.
Research has found that ulcers are actually caused by the bacteria H. pylori. The effect of chronic stress on the immune system allows the H. pylori bacteria to thrive leading to ulcers. Another is that exposure to stress can change the balance of bacteria in the gut, giving harmful ones the upper hand.
When you’re stressed, your blood sugar levels rise. Stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol kicks off, as one of their major functions is to raise blood sugar to help boost energy when it’s needed most.
When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain.
Stress can make you breathe harder. That’s not a problem for most people, but for those with asthma or a lung disease such as emphysema, getting the oxygen you need to breathe easier can be difficult.
Chronic stress, ongoing stress over an extended period of time, can affect testosterone production, sperm production and maturation, and even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence.
Stress, distraction, fatigue, etc., may reduce sexual desire — especially when women are simultaneously caring for young children or other ill family members, coping with chronic medical problems, feeling depressed, experiencing relationship difficulties or abuse, dealing with work problems, etc.