Physical Signs and Symptoms of High Stress
Aug. 30 2021
Stress is a big part of life. From dealing with family, work, health and other demands pulling us in various directions, it’s sometimes hard to stay afloat. But not all stress is bad stress. Some stressors motivate us and help us take care of ourselves during dangerous situations.
The good news is that our bodies are naturally designed to deal with stress –– it’s like we have an internal coping mechanism that shows up right on time. Think of it as a little alarm, signaling our inner superhero to come and save the day. But what happens when we constantly feel stressed and are unable to focus or rest?
The biology of stress and how it impacts our bodies
Biologically, when we experience danger, the area in our brain known as the hypothalamus (located at the base of the brain) notifies our body, just like an alarm would –– cue the bat signal.
Our nerves and hormones activate our adrenal glands, sending out a rush of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that result in the release of glucocorticoids which can raise blood glucose levels.
This fight or flight response helps us activate our muscles and heart so we can either fight to defend ourselves or run away to safety. It’s literally like putting on a superhero cape but it all happens internally.
Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates blood pressure and gives us a supercharged energy boost. While cortisol, which serves as our main stress hormone, deposits glucose into the blood stream, suppresses digestion and other nonessential body functions.
Types of stress responses and their impact
Natural stress response – occurs when you encounter a perceived threat. Whether it’s a garden hose you think is a snake or an actual bear attacking you, your brain doesn’t know the difference, it simply processes and responds.
Long-term stress response – overexposure of cortisol and stress hormones disrupt the body’s processes, leading to major health risks.
Stress, especially long-term stress, can cause adverse effects for people living with type 2 diabetes. Cortisol increases blood glucose in the bloodstream to help the body prepare for fight or flight.
Long-term activation of cortisol and other stress hormones can lead to other health issues like:
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension
- Heart disease, heart attack or stroke
- Sleep disorders
- Depression and anxiety
- Weight gain and digestive issues
- Cognitive changes (memory and concentration)
Slight variations in our genes can determine if we have a highly reactive or underactive stress response. Similarly, life experiences — like traumatic events — can also have a major impact on how our bodies respond to stressors, often making people who have had these experiences more at risk.
Healthy ways to manage everyday stress
Sometimes it’s hard to cope with stress when there’s a lot on your plate or major life stressors occur — like a job change or moving. But there are a few things you can do to help, from deep breathing to taking a walk outside.
Some simple ways to relieve stress include:
- Taking the time out to read a good book
- Getting outside in nature
- Spending time with loved ones
- Movement through exercise like yoga or dance
- Limiting electronic devices, especially before sleep
- Practicing mindfulness through meditation practices
No matter what you try, it’s important to find what works for you and what helps you feel happiest. We encourage members to connect with their coach if they feel they are suffering from high stress.