Some of the physiological changes brought about by acute stress such as running for a bus:
- Heart rate and force of contraction of the heart increase.
- Blood pressure increases.
- Blood vessels of the skin and most internal organs constrict (get smaller in circumference).
- Blood vessels of skeletal muscles, brain, heart and lungs dilate.
- The airways dilate.
- Sweating increases.
- The pupils of the eye dilate.
- Glycogen is converted into glucose and blood sugar levels increase.
- Production of digestive juices and muscular movements of the gastrointestinal tract decrease and may even stop.
- Urinary activities are inhibited.
- Reproductive activities are inhibited.
- Saliva production reduces.
After the initial shock of a stressful event and having these acute responses, your body begins to revert to normal. It releases a lower amount of stress hormone (cortisol), and heart rate and blood pressure begin to normalise. Even though the body initiates recovery, it stays on high alert for a while. But if you get over the stress and the situation subsides, your body continues to normalise to its pre-stress state.
The problem is, some stress continues for long periods, years even. If unresolved, your body remains on high alert and eventually adapts to operate with that higher stress level. In this situation the body goes through lasting changes in an attempt to cope.
It continues to secrete stress hormones, and blood pressure remains elevated. Even though you think you’re managing stress well, your body’s quiet but profound physical response is a different matter. If this continues for too long you then have a new normal of higher blood pressure, high blood sugar, raised heart rate, poor digestion, possible infertility and other undesirable health states.
Tackle the cause
That is why it’s so important to take measures against stress. It’s best to tackle the cause but while you do so you can help your body by taking regular exercise (not by over-exercising as that’s stress in itself), going to bed earlier and having some lie-ins, talking to and laughing with friends and loved ones, sharing your worries, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight, reducing or eliminating alcohol, spending time in nature regularly, meditating, practising mindfulness, working your paid hours, saying no, accepting help and many many more things.
Think about your last days on this earth, what will you look back and feel happy about? Will it be working too hard, staying in a bad relationship or job, always giving but never receiving help, chasing money – or will it be spending chill time with those you love, making special memories, laughing, chatting, watching the seasons change and all those softer life things?
I think I know the answer.