Effects of Stress on Your Health!

Dr. Pablo Tagle M.D.
Dr. Pablo Tagle M.D.

Stress is something that affects all of us in some form or fashion.  Whether it’s emotional stress, physical stress, or even chemical stress, there is no way to completely avoid it.  How you choose to prevent stress is up to you!

Stress is sometimes called the silent killer.  There is no real direct diagnostic measure to tell whether you’re stressed, but it is a very serious threat that we don’t realize.  Whenever you are in a stressed state, it causes your “sympathetic nervous system” to become very active in your body.  Your sympathetic nervous system is your body’s natural process that causes you to release adrenaline.  For example, if you were to walk down a dark alley at night and a dog jumps out at you and scares you, what happens?  Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises, your pupils dilate, and you have a surge of adrenaline released throughout your body, known as the “fight or flight” response.  Now granted, this is an extreme measure; however, when you are stressed, you are putting your body in a “sympathetic” state.

The reason it is so dangerous is it affects your life in so many different facets.  Let’s look at the emotional portion of stress.  When you have high amounts of emotional stress, it causes you to become depressed or worried, which causes fear and anxiety.  So when you start to feel all of these feelings, your body begins to secrete “cortisol,” which is your body’s main stress hormone.  Your body’s sympathetic nervous system begins to take control of your body, which helps you cope with this stress.  Staying in this kind of “stressed” state is not healthy for you, because your body is constantly over working itself to be able to overcome this “stressed state.”

Now let’s take a look at our body when we stress it out chemically.  What does this mean, to “stress your body out chemically?”   This is a main stressor that we don’t consider.  For instance, what happens when you’re so busy in your everyday life that you don’t have a chance to eat breakfast.  Well, when you wake up, your body has been fasting all night long, so it’s basically starving for food in the morning.  You don’t have time to eat breakfast because you’re too busy, so you just drink a cup of coffee.  Now it’s time for lunch, and you eat a huge lunch because you have been starving all morning long.  When you have been fasting all morning, your body has low blood sugar levels, because your body does not have any fuel in it.  So finally when you eat, you spike your insulin levels.  Your body doesn’t like to have high insulin levels, so your body begins to crash, dropping your blood sugar levels very low.  It is hard for your body to function with low blood sugar levels, so your body has to increase its cortisol production for you to be able to work and continue functioning with low blood sugar levels.  This is basically causing your body to be in a “stressed sympathetic state.”  This is the normal roller coaster routine that we do daily to our body by not eating when we are supposed to or by eating unhealthy things.

Physically, your body has a similar process.  When your body is in a physically stressed state, your body is sending signals to your brain that it is in pain.  Your body does not want to feel pain, so your body begins to produce “enkephalins,” which is a derivative of your stress hormone cortisol.  These enkephalins help block the pain pathway to your brain.  Thus, by activating this response, you are again increasing the cortisol levels in your body that help you deal with your physical pain.  By living in a state of pain, you are basically telling your body that you have pain every day and need your sympathetic nervous system to constantly be active for you to be able to manage your pain.

Now you can begin to see that you are continuously increasing your stress levels on a daily basis without realizing it.  By living in a high state of stress, you are creating a toxic environment for your body.  Your sympathetic nervous system begins to control your body.  That means your blood pressure and pulse rate are increased.  Obviously, this is not good because of the affects on your cardiovascular health.  Your body’s digestive system begins to have dysfunctions, because the sympathetic nervous system slows the digestive process.  This means that you will not be able to metabolize food like you used to, leading to gastric problems.  High amounts of cortisol in your body also cause you to gain weight.  Since your adrenal glands are constantly being overworked and are having to secrete cortisol non-stop, you began to develop adrenal fatigue syndrome from not giving your body a chance to rest.  The constant state of stress begins to eventually wear down your body and cause disease. 

How can you prevent all these adverse affects from controlling your health?

1.)   Incorporate an exercise regimen that will help you relieve stress and help promote endorphins.  Endorphins are our feel-good hormones that help reduce stress.  You should exercise at least 3-4 times a week.  When you exercise, make it your goal to push yourself for at least 35-45 minutes each session.

2.)    Eat healthy.  By making healthier food choices, you don’t stress your body by spiking your insulin levels as much.  You should eat every 2-3 hours with smaller, controlled portions so as not to have a roller coaster affect on your body’s insulin levels.  Refrain from eating processed foods, which cause you to spike your insulin levels.

3.)   Maintain a positive mental attitude.  This is something that everyone should, do no matter if you are stressed or not.  Things occur in life, and there is nothing you can do about these situations; however, you know you have the power to choose your frame of mind and how it affects you.  You can only change circumstances in your life, not other people.  Get into a routine of reading positive spiritual books.  Make the time to meditate daily to help clear your mind of negative thoughts and emotions.  A great book that I would love to recommend is There’s A Spiritual Solution To Every Problem by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.

4.)   Taking vitamins are very important in aiding your body when you are stressed out.  Everyone should take a daily multi-vitamin.  This helps supply your body with proper minerals and nutrients for your cells.  Taking a daily dosage of B-Complex vitamins will also help keep your adrenal glands from over working themselves, which in turn helps prevent adrenal fatigue syndrome.  Omega 3 EFAs are a very important natural anti-inflammatory vitamin that is also great brain fuel.  Consuming Calcium and Magnesium have been shown to help with stress as well.  Antioxidants are also very important in helping your body excrete all the excess toxins your body produces when you are stressed.

Living life in a fast paced western society is hard.  We are always constantly on the go and never have time to slow down and listen to our bodies.  It’s when we begin to neglect our bodies that we begin to put ourselves in a state of disease.  Your body is the best indicator of your health, if you will just allow yourself the time to listen to your body.  Love and respect yourself and everything around you.  You have one body and one life.  Live it with love, peace, and happiness.