Stress is caused by a mild version of the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is our wild site which preps us for action. This is triggered by a flood of hormones and neurotransmitters, including the likes of dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and cortisol. In response, our parasympathetic nervous system preps us for battle by making our brain more focused and triggering various physiological changes in our bodies, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Increased blood viscosity (so that our blood would clot in response to an injury)
- Muscle contractions
- Decreased digestion
- Suppressed immune system
Find the Golden mean
The immune system and digestion are suppressed so that more blood and more resources can be directed to the brain and to the muscles. This is a little like Captain Kirk sending all power to thrusters, even if it means diverting it away from the medical bay!
The context this was designed to be used in would always be short and sharp – it would be a sudden release of adrenaline that would allow us to get away from a predator or a forest fire.
But today, stressors tend to last much longer and take the form of workplace pressure, debt, relationship problems, etc. When you go for these long periods with continuous stress, the body takes a beating: blood pressure is raised (because it is thicker and the heart rate is increased), we don’t absorb all the nutrients in our food (due to that suppressed digestion) and we become much more prone to illness.
Stress Is Not a Trifle
Just as not getting enough nutrients in the diet can lead to cumulative damage that becomes serious over time, so too can continuous chronic stress. This also leads to an increase in oxidative damage to the cells and can even turn you grey! Even just frowning more may be one of the fastest ways to give yourself more wrinkles along the top of your head – right where they don’t look so great!
Stress even makes you grind your teeth, making you more inclined to lose them later on. And stress can cause psychological damage that might end up culminating in more serious damage over time. Want proof? Just take a look at any president or prime minister and you’ll see that they went grey very shortly after being elected!