The Effects of Stress on the Body

breath reduce stress yoga therapy Apr 22, 2021
 

 

The long-term effects of unmanaged stress can have detrimental consequences for the brain and the body.  

While short-term stress is part of our survival instinct - such as fleeing danger.  Long-term stress can really impact us in many negative ways.  The effects of long-term  unmanaged stress can creep up on us too.  We can feel like we are coping and managing for months, maybe years, and then suddenly everything comes crashing down around us.

When we engage the stress response we activate our sympathetic nervous system which was designed so that our adrenal glands start producing cortisol.  This then shuts down the digestive processes and we are ready to either run for our lives or stay and fight.  By shutting down short-term blood supply to the digestive system we can pump the rest of our body up to run as fast as we can.  

You can begin to understand why staying in this space for extended and long-term periods is unhealthy.  Our body is pumped, we can't relax or sleep properly, and our digestive system does not get to work properly.  This leads to so many other health complications that, after years of neglect, can lead to some serious issues. 

This hypervigilant state keeps the sympathetic nervous system at the forefront, while the parasympathetic nervous system gets pushed into the background.

The parasympathetic nervous system helps us to rest, digest and restore.  So feelings of calm and wellbeing become a distant memory for us and this stressed out state become the new norm.  After a while we forget what it was even like to feel calm and well.

Continued stress creates toxic build up in the body.  The liver stops working properly, which impact bile production, and the knock on effects result in inflammation throughout the body.  This sympathetically driven 'fight or flight' reaction activates the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.  When this axis is constantly being activated we become increasingly reactive, experiencing heightened responses even to minor problems, we feel fatigued, our sleep is poor, we become prone to depression.  With time this leads to ill-health or cognitive dysfunction, and is not conducive to a positive experience of ageing. 

 

What's the remedy?

 

Well, it definitely does not come in pill or liquid form.  

Andre Aleman (in his book Our Ageing Brain, 2014) states that when we improve blood flow to the brain through exercise we are maintaining healthy brain function. 

Learning to manage stress requires a combination of meditation, mindfulness, physically moving the body (suitable yoga and walking are fabulous), and breathing exercises.  Working these 'remedies' into your daily life will help you achieve a well-balanced body and mind.  

Learning about mindfulness is a great place to start.  Join my FREE 7 Day Mindfulness Challenge and find out how you can integrate the beneficial practice into your daily life. 

 

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