When does stress become negative and harmful to our health?
When stressful periods go on for a longtime or we experience pressure from the surrounding environment which we are not physiologically able to ease, our body cannot eliminate the chemical substances produced during a “fight of flight” response. The accumulation of these substances can cause anxiety and trigger several health issues, affecting our body as a whole:
Weakened immune system
When we become ill, our body experiences an amount of stress that compels it to work more: it’s a natural reaction that helps us fight illnesses and infections, and that generally lasts for as much time as the illness. If our body does not regain its natural balance and this reaction continues over time, our system weakens and its function is compromised.
Scientific research on the effects of stress on inflammation have in fact shown that prolonged exposure to stress increases the risk of disease.
Malfunction of the cardiovascular system
Stress affects the health of our heart, because it causes an increase in arterial pressure, leading to cardiovascular malfunctions. If stress becomes a chronic condition at work or in private life, it increases the possible onset of coronary disease by 40-50%. Stress modifies the arteriosclerotic plaques up to their dissection, increasing the risk of ischemic attacks.
Why do we often experience symptoms to our stomach or intestine before a stressful event? Our digestive system, containing millions of nerve cells, can respond to a stressful situation by triggering an intense gastrointestinal reaction, that may include gastroesophageal reflux, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, cramps, and even more serious consequences, such as ulcers.
After an intense day or during periods of great stress, cooking a healthy and balanced meal is the last thing we want to do. We tend to choose convenience food, often rich in sugar and fats, which initially makes us feel good and causes our body to release dopamine and alleviate stress. However, the long-term consequences of this habit are all but beneficial. We are stressed, so we eat junk food which makes us gain weight; we gain excessive weight and we experience both emotional stress and frustration, triggering a vicious circle that, in the most serious cases, can lead to obesity.
Chronic stress has an impact on our appearance too, and causes many blemishes (for more details, read our article about “Stress blemishes”).