How Do Our Stress Levels Shape Our Health

Without realising it, stress may be the cause of our health issues. Daily events, although small, can accumulate into a sustained level of tension within the mind and body. The two are closely related to our overall health and we may not realise that the feeling of being mentally stressed, such as at work, can have detrimental effects on our body’s physical wellbeing. The root of stress begins in the brain, but its reaction is physical, through the influence of hormones. As such, it has the potential to affect each part of our body, from internal organs to skin.

Our bodies are primal in design and stress is no exception. It is the indicator to remove oneself from the situation. At first, an alarm is triggered, typically at the recognition of a stressful event. This can be anything from receiving bad news to being stuck in traffic. Your brain, or specifically the amygdala, which deals with emotions, alerts the hypothalamus, triggering the release of hormones. The hypothalamus’ response is two-fold. It simultaneously releases adrenaline, which is why we feel tense, and cortisol, which stimulates the body’s production of sugar to give us more energy.

This biological response seeks to prioritise the parts of the body necessary for either removing oneself from the situation or fighting. Hence why, even when simply being stuck in traffic, our frustration builds and we can often feel the need to lash out. Avoiding small amounts of stress is impossible and, fortunately, it is not harmful to the body. In fact, it is a helpful indicator that you may be in a bad situation. However, the sustained and long-term effects of stress can lead to many problems.

These long term problems most often stem from the body prioritising certain systems over others. During periods of stress, the immune system is neglected since the long term benefits are outweighed by the short term. In the case of sustained stress, this can lead to greater susceptibility to illnesses. Alternatively, the prioritisation of an organ, such as the heart, can create immense pressure. This is why stress is linked to heart attacks.

One of the most common results of sustained stress is the pressure the hormones place upon the thyroid, which may lead to complications such as hypothyroidism. If our environment remains stressful then our body suffers from the continued biological pressure. In the case of the thyroid, it can influence or decrease the number of important hormones produced, such as T3 and T4 (triiodothyronine and thyroxine). This leads to issues including fatigue, depression, and even weight gain. While there are treatments for these issues, and even replacement hormones, such as Liothyronine, they can easily be avoided by reducing stress before it takes effect.

If you feel concerned about stress, then seek to arrange a consultation with your local GP. While certain stress-related ailments are clear, others can be subtle and develop quietly before they become more severe.