The National Institute of Mental Health has stated that there are 40 million adults in the US alone that are plagued with anxiety and depression. These mental health-related disorders are often attributed to one factor: stress. The feeling of stress has become too common in most people’s lives that they start to dismiss its potential effects on the health. But if the occurrence of mental disorders and debilitating health conditions were any indicator, stress should be taken seriously.
Stress in the Modern World
Why is there is so much stress and anxiety these days? Is the modern society to blame for it? What has changed that triggered this explosion of stress-related health and mental disorders?
Evolutionary psychologists have studied closely these cases to determine where the root of the problem is. They came up with these possible factors that can impact one’s stress level in the modern world.
- Social media and other forms of media are to blame. In today’s society, people are constantly exposed to images of beauty, youth, and wealth that it is impossible not to compare. Once comparison sets in, most people tend to set unrealistic standards for themselves. Since these standards are unrealistic to begin with, it can lead to personal disappointment and stress.
- Everything moves at a fast pace. Since innovation and technology is constantly changing, there is immense pressure on humans to adapt, too. This results in a tremendous amount of pressure and stress on working individuals to keep up and perform to the highest level on a consistent basis.
- There is a tendency for modern people to multi-task. Technology and being connected has made it possible for modern people to juggle work, family, and social life. But when you try to do too much, it can take its toll on your physical and mental health.
How Stress Affects Your Health
To better understand how stress can have a direct impact on the human body, it is important to look closely at its physiological effects.
Central Nervous System
The central nervous system is responsible for how you respond during “fight or flight” situations. The hypothalamus sends a signal to your adrenal glands to release stress hormones that will impact how you respond to any given situation. Upon the release of these hormones, it can affect your heart beat and the amount of blood pressure that goes to your body and major organ systems. This explains why stress can have an impact on your heart, muscles and other organs.
When the perceived threat is gone, your hypothalamus will send another signal that all of your systems should return to normal. But there are cases wherein the response will continue long after the stressor is gone. This results in a condition known as chronic stress, which can debilitate your eating and sleeping habits, as well as your social interactions.
Another part of the human body that is commonly affected by stress is the digestive system. The link might be odd to some people but there is a scientific evidence to support that. When you are under stress, the liver produces higher amount of glucose to provide an extra boost of energy. But if your body is constantly stressed (such as in the case of chronic stress), the body will continue to produce excessive amounts of sugar. This explains why stress often results in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Aside from the excessive production of glucose, an increased heart rate and rapid breathing are other signs of stress that can upset your digestive system. People who are chronically stressed suffer from heartburn or acid reflux. This is due to the overproduction of acid in the stomach. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not cause ulcers but it can certainly increase your risk for developing it.
Other digestive problems that had been scientifically proven to be a result of stress are nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and frequent stomach aches.
Chronic facial pain such as jaw pain or TMJ is a common occurrence in the US, which affects millions of adults every year. There are several known causes for TMJ such as injury, arthritis, or misaligned bite. But recent studies have shown that stress can also be a factor causing TMJ. If you want to ease TMJ symptoms or any feeling of discomfort associated with it, it is important to understand how stress results to teeth clenching while you sleep.
The relationship between stress and TMJ might be more complicated, though. Depending on the type or level of stress, the manifestations of TMJ can be tightness on the left or right side of the jaw. In some cases, pain is felt on both sides of the jaw. Since the TMJ is linked to the movement of the muscles and joints surrounding your jaw and mouth, it is no surprise that it can be affected by stress.
Too much stress and anxiety can lead to muscle tension. You might not notice it but it is a common tendency for most people to clench their teeth while under immense levels of stress. When this happens, the muscles begin to tighten. When you clench your teeth during sleep – a common symptom of TMJ disorder – this can also damage your teeth.
If you are exhibiting symptoms of TMJ and are experiencing a great deal of pain from it, it might be time to see a TMJ specialist. Letting the pain progress will only worsen the situation, especially if you experience a great deal of stress as part of your daily routine. You can seek the advice of a TMJ expert on how to remedy your teeth clenching problem and what is the next step to take after diagnosis.
The release of stress hormones can also have an impact on the cardiovascular system. When you are feeling stressed, your heart is pumping blood faster. As a result, your blood vessels become constricted and the oxygen is pushed towards your muscles so your body is ready to take on a fight response, if needed. The major downside to this is that your blood pressure rises in this situation.
If you are under chronic stress, your heart is working harder and your blood pressure is constantly on the rise. An excessive amount of stress can eventually put you at risk for having a stroke or suffering from a heart attack.
Stress can have its beneficial effects when present at healthy doses. But when there is an overwhelming amount of stress in your life, or you suffer from it chronically, it is time to evaluate how it is affecting you physically. Your health can suffer from stress and it will only get worse when left untreated. Make sure you know how to manage stress in your daily life so your long-term health won’t end up suffering, too.
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