I wanted to touch today on some of the physical issues related to stress, worry and anxiety. We are all fairly familiar with the idea that stress causes our muscles to knot, our stomachs to cramp, headaches, really, just the works. All of those effects are true, but let’s look a bit deeper.
Stress is a reaction caused by fear, pain, or exertion of the body. When stress becomes chronic, either from physical matters or emotional (worry, frustration, emotional pain), certain chemicals that are normally very good for the body become aggravating and even damaging. Adrenaline is one of them.
While it prepares our bodies for intense physical action, even low levels of worry can cause minute amounts of adrenaline to be secreted into the blood stream all the time. This has two effects: first, it tires the body out. All the way from tiny cells to large muscles, the constant exposure of adrenaline causes fatigue.
The other effect is a lack of ability to become motivated or active. Makes sense, yes? The body is tired. The mind gets tired along with it.
Another substance is cortisol. It too is produced by the adrenal glands. Normally it’s an absolute essentiality for the body. However, it, like adrenaline, does not require a real stress to be around for it to come flooding out into our bodies. The perception, the imagination of a bad outcome, can trigger overproduction. Overproduction isn’t a good thing.
Primarily, too much cortisol harms the immune system, although temporarily. During that period of harm, we get sicker much easier. Our systems have greater trouble fighting off diseases. Thus, constantly stressed and worried individuals really do have an increased risk for physical ailments.
Wound healing is also slowed down considerably by too much cortisol. Cortisol tends to promote inflammation, which can be good, but also has a negative effect in preventing natural healing agents from getting to wounds.
Finally, histamine—we’re all familiar with antihistamines. Histamine is actually a very useful chemical in the body. Why our bodies tend to produce far too much isn’t well understood. What is understood is that cortisol produced by stress (even just the perception of a frightening or unpleasant situation) increases histamine production.
What can too much histamine do? We’re all acquainted with runny noses, itchy eyes, and sneezing. Too much histamine can also cramp the stomach, cause nausea, and upset digestion.
When at all possible, learning how to reduce stress will have an immediate, positive effect on our bodies. It doesn’t take weeks to set in. Reducing stress levels over a period of 10 to 12 hours will show immediate—small but very real—benefits. The longer your reduce your stress, the better off you’ll be.