Long Term Effects of Stress on the Body
Your body is undeniably complex.
Our bodies are build do deal with stress through a physiological process called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). To understand how stress affects the body in the long term, let's have a closer look at this general adaptation syndrome.
GAS consists of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Recovery or Exhaustion.
During the alarm stage your body prepares for action and releases a variety of hormones into the blood stream. The physiological response continues through the resistance stage and the body returns to homeostasis (a state of equilibrium) during the recovery stage.
When the body does not recover and return to homeostasis after a stressful event, exhaustion can result. This last stage of the GAS is characterized by depletion of body's resources and loss of ability to adapt.
It is the exhaustion stage of the GAS when the long term effects of stress begin to set in. Although your body attempts to adjust to constant and higher levels of stress, the resulting wear and tear compromises a number of systems in your body and organs, which can lead to illness.
Frequent episodes of the alarm stage can impair certain body systems. In particular, excessive stress can cause damage to the following 3 systems:
Long term effects of stress on the cardiovascular system can result in increased heart rate, damaged blood vessels, high blood pressure, and increase in serum cholesterol levels. All of which lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Stress causes the heart to beat more forcefully and to pump more blood. The blood pressure can rise and if the stress is chronic, hypertension can result.
Stress causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing the amount of blood that can be circulated around the body tissues and organs.
During the acute stage of stress - the "fight or flight" - blood thickens, coagulation increases and blood platelets build up along the fatty deposits in the arteries.
Stress causes the release of cholesterol into the blood stream. If there is too much cholesterol it builds up on the walls of coronary arteries and restricts blood flow into the heart. If the arteries become blocked, the person has a heart attack.
Stress virtually shuts down the gastrointestinal system (GI). During the acute stage of stress, blood is diverted from the GI tract to muscles, where it is needed much more. Stomach peristalsis is reduced and sphincters are closed. The body reduces secretion of acid juices and digestion slows down.
Stress affects the intestines as well. They undergo vasoconstriction (blood vessels in the intestines constrict) and peristalsis and tone of the intestines is decreased.
When the stress is prolonged and the body does not return to homeostasis, this creates a variety of GI disturbances. Some people develop chronic constipation, problems with stomach acid, or ulcers.
The greatest long term effects of stress are seen with the immune system. Weather you are stressed or not, when you come across an organism, will largely determine weather you will develop an illness or not.
How does stress affect the immune system? Your body naturally produces immune cells, called T lymphocytes, that fight bacteria, viral infections, fungi, and cancer cells.
Elevated levels of adrenal hormones during stress suppresses the body's production of T lymphocytes, weakening your whole immune system. Not only stress worsens existing infections, you also become more susceptible to immune system related health problems.
As you can see, the effects of stress on the body are very serious and can lead to many illnesses. The following article talks about some of the known effects of stress on health.
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