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The Science of Stress

The Science of Stress

To live and to not have been stressed is as if never having lived at all.

Whether we like it or not, psychological stress is an unavoidable part of our lives. Work, studies, relationships, or responsibilities, nearly anything can be its trigger point.

Now, you may have heard the phrase “fight or flight” every now and then. That’s your body’s immediate response to stress. So, the rush you feel as a result of stress is caused by your body preparing you for challenges by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

But adrenaline’s good, right? Well, actually in less amounts stress in itself can push you to get things done. But it gets bad when if it’s too frequent. That’s where you’re at the risk of psychological and physiological harm.

So, in this article, we’ll take a lot at the science of stress in more depth, including its physiological and psychological effects, common causes, and ways to identify it.

The Stress Physiology

The “fight or flight” response is a complicated method your body uses to help you tackle stressful or challenging situations through hormone release.

It’s not just one part of the body doing a single thing to support you. It’s rather a combination of things happening throughout different systems of your body that comprise your final response to stress. So, whether a physical threat or a psychological one, there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

So, let’s take a closer look at how stress affects some of the body’s systems.

The Nervous System

Your body’s response to stress is crucially dependent on your nervous system. How? In simplified terms, there’s a part of your brain called the hypothalamus responsible for the first response. Its job is to send a signal to your pituitary gland to produce the ACTH hormone, which then tells your adrenal glands to release cortisol. So, when you think about it, your nervous system basically directs your body’s response to stress whenever you face a challenging situation.

The Endocrine System

Now, when we talked about your brain telling your pituitary gland something and something else happening as a result, the system receiving the signal is called the endocrine system. This system is responsible for managing the hormone levels of your body. So, when it comes to stress, it releases cortisol when directed to by your nervous system. The cortisol then aids in adjusting your blood sugar, metabolism, and immune system for the energy boost it needs to overcome your problem.

The Cardiovascular System

Your cardiovascular system is also significantly involved when you talk about stress physiology. You see, your body has a thing called the sympathetic nervous system. So, when you feel stressed, this system gets activated and signals your cardiovascular system to boost your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels. As discussed earlier, this helps your body get a temporary energy boost. But it comes with a consequence. In the long run, it can severely affect your blood pressure, leaving you at a higher risk of heart disease.

The Immune System

Your immune system helps you fight off diseases and infections. So, naturally, it requires a lot of resources. But when your body release cortisol, it tells your immune system to cool down, in a sense. Basically, it then allocates a significant part of your immune system’s resources to fighting off your stressor instead. As a result, you’re more prone to falling sick, especially if your stress is an on-going type instead of a one-time thing.

The Digestive System

Finally, let’s put some stress on how stress affects your digestive system. As mentioned above, during a stressful situation, you experience a different state of mind and body. This includes, a lower blood flow to your digestive system as well. So, when you eat something while stresses, you may come across digestion issues like nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. Again, the long term disadvantages are even worse. The longer you’re stressed, the more you’re prone to the development of major gastrointestinal disorders as well.

Psychological Stress Impacts

Let’s not forget that while there are many physiological aspects of stress, it’s primarily a psychological issue. In fact, that is where it all begins. So, you can bet that your mental health has a lot at stake when it comes to stress. It can lead to a wide array of problems like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

So, let’s discuss some of the ways your mind is affected by stress:

Cognitive Effects

For starters, when you get stressed, forming clear thoughts can feel like a hassle. You may feel like something’s forcing your thinking power to be cloudy. As a result, you may not be able to make the most sound decisions.

Emotional Effects

Another major problem can be the way you handle your emotional state. When you’re anxious, you tend to become more irritable due to the appearance of being overwhelmed. This may derive extreme emotions ranging from general sadness to depression, and hopelessness.

Behavioral Effects

Psychological stress can also alter your behavioral response to certain situations. For instance, you may refrain from your usual manner of socialization. In fact, you may feel there’s less or no joy in the things that you do. Otherwise, you may get involved in overeating, or consuming dangerous substances.

Understanding The Symptoms Of Stress

So, how do you know when you’re stressed? Whether you’re a student, a house worker, a daily wage earner, or a white-collar professional, anybody and everybody is at risk of chronic stress.

And if you are stressed, you need to find the right treatment to cure it. Yet, before you do that, you need to know for sure if you are. You can do that by identifying if you face any of its symptoms.

So, I’m listing down the various symptoms of stress to help you out. However, if you do face them and think you need to take action, I advise that you consult a mental health professional.

Physical Symptoms

First and foremost, let’s take a brief look at some of the physical symptoms of stress that you may experience. Some of those include:

  • Headaches

A headache is a primary symptom of stress. From mild to severe, it can feel like a real pain around your head.

  • Muscle tension

Stress is also known to cause muscle tension which leads to unexpected pain in your neck or back area.

  • Fatigue

Due to its physiological effects, stress also results in fatigue making you less motivated to go about your day.

  • Sleep disturbances

It also takes away your sound night’s sleep by causing insomnia or nightmares for you.

  • Digestive problems­­

As discussed earlier, when your digestive system gets impacted by stress, you may experience diarrhea or constipation.

  • Increased heart rate

Stress can also increase your heart rate, which can further lead to palpitations or a feeling of a racing heart.

  • Sweating

For some people, stress can cause excessive sweating even when they’re not engaged in strenuous activities.

Emotional Symptoms of Stress

Of course, there are also emotional tells that you can tap into. Some of the most common ones among those are as follows:

  • Anxiety

The first emotional sign of stress would be ongoing anxiety. It clouds your thoughts and affects your judgment.

  • Depression

Another major issue that may arise would be depression. When you’re stressed, this can stem from the smallest of things.

  • Irritability

Stress can make you feel irritable, short-tempered, and easily agitated.

  • Mood swings

Stress can cause mood swings, leading to sudden changes in emotions.

  • Lack of motivation

Stress can make you feel unmotivated and disinterested in activities that you normally enjoy.

  • Feeling overwhelmed

Stress can make you feel overwhelmed, leading to feelings of helplessness and inability to cope.

Cognitive Symptoms of Stress

Stress can also affect your cognitive abilities which are further indicators that you may need to take the right action. Summarized, these are:

  • Forgetfulness

Stress can cause forgetfulness, making it difficult to remember things or retain new information.

  • Difficulty concentrating

Stress can make it difficult to concentrate, leading to problems with work, school, or other tasks.

  • Poor decision-making

Stress can affect your ability to make decisions, leading to indecisiveness or poor choices.

  • Racing thoughts

Stress can cause racing thoughts, leading to difficulty calming your mind or focusing on a particular task.

  • Mental fog

Stress can cause mental fog, making it difficult to think clearly or remember important details.

Behavioral Symptoms of Stress

Finally, as mentioned earlier, you may also observe a few behavioral signs that can be signaling chronic stress. Some of those can be:

  • Social withdrawal

Stress can cause you to withdraw from social situations, leading to isolation and loneliness.

  • Substance abuse

Stress can lead to substance abuse, such as alcohol or drug use, as a way to cope with stress.

  • Overeating or undereating

Stress can cause changes in appetite, leading to overeating or undereating.

  • Procrastination

Stress can lead to procrastination, putting off tasks or responsibilities until the last minute.

  • Impulsivity

Stress can lead to impulsivity, leading to impulsive decisions or actions that may not be well thought out or rational.

  • Aggressive behavior

Stress can cause aggressive behavior, leading to verbal or physical outbursts.

The Ways To Identify If You’re Stressed

The symptoms themselves aren’t enough for a complete diagnosis. If you experience something once, and another at another time without consistency, that’s one thing. Whereas, if you experience more symptoms consistently, that’s more severe. So, before you decide where you are in the spectrum of psychological stress, try to take a proper assessment through the following procedure:

  • Keep a journal
    You can use a journal to note down the differences you observe in your behavior, thought patterns, and emotions.
  • Track down your symptoms
    See if you face any of the symptoms described above on a regular or fairly regular basis, and note them down in your journal.
  • Consult a professional
    If you see any regular patterns with your symptoms, run them by a certified professional to learn what you should do next.

The Causes Behind Stress

So, what is it that actually causes the stress you face?

Everybody you see has to come across a challenge every now and then, and yet some people tend to be way more stressed about everything than others. On the other hand, some would be playing it extremely cool. So, you wonder what causes this stress to emerge for some people as compared to others.

Well, these can be from among the following:

Environmental Causes

One of the major issues that cause stress can be a stress-inducing environment. When you live in a disturbing area or have to tolerate it for travel or work, that takes a toll on your mental health. All of that noise and pollution heavily contribute to the increase of your body’s cortisol. Overcrowding can also play a part in increasing your stress levels further. So, all in all. It’s a combination of the multiple factors of a disturbing environment that most people have to go through on a daily basis.

Social Causes

Another major category of stressors can be social issues. These can range from quarrels within friendships to relationship strains, financial burdens, and much more. The ironic part here is that socialization in itself can actually be quite healthy, and it’s even used as part of the treatment of stress. However, toxic socialization can also cause anxiety and make your situation worse than it was before.

Psychological Stress

Our minds are capable of wonderful things. But they’re also capable of making us feel stresses out. For some people, this stress can come as a result of overthinking small issues, resulting in assuming the worst of every situation. This can especially be true in the case of people with OCD who can’t resist having things done a certain way.

Traumatic Causes

Finally, a leading cause of stress among people of all ages is trauma caused by uneventful experiences. The kind of stress caused by trauma can range from delayed-onset traumatic stress to multiple-incident traumatic stress. A common name you may have heard of in this category is PTSD, which is a stress disorder generally caused by severely disturbing experiences. Similarly, there’s another lesser-known kind called an ACE. This is the type of stress disorder caused by disturbing childhood events. Both can lead to issues that last years on end.

Managing Stress: Taking Control of Our Well-Being

To conclude, stress isn’t something you can ignore.

But you can always take measures to prevent it to reduce it enough to remain in control of your situation. In this blog post, we’ve discussed a bit about the science behind chronic stress and the symptoms you can observe to identify it.

And if you find yourself stressed, there are many proven methods that can help you regenerate good health.

At the end of the day, you should always take professional advice to develop a custom wellness roadmap that works for you!

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