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Prolonged stress and anxiety and its effects on your health

What is stress?

Stress is a natural reaction that evolved as a survival mechanism to help humans cope with difficult or dangerous situations. Stress is a physiological and psychological response to a perceived threat, challenge, or demand. When faced with stress, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare the body for action.

Stress can arise from various sources, including work, relationships, financial difficulties, health problems, or major life changes. It can also result from internal pressures such as perfectionism or excessive self-criticism. While some level of stress is okay for health, chronic or excessive stress can have negative of physical and mental health.

prolonged stress effects on health

What is anxiety?

Anxiety refers to a persistent feeling of unease, worry, or fear. For individuals with anxiety disorders, these feelings of unease, or worry are excessive, uncontrollable, and often disproportionate to the actual situation. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders.

Stress and anxiety are two interconnected concepts that share several similarities. While they are distinct experiences, they often coexist and can have overlapping symptoms and effects. Here are some of the key similarities between stress and anxiety:

Emotional Response: Both stress and anxiety involve intense emotional responses. Stress typically arises from external pressures or demands, whereas anxiety often stems from internal worry or apprehension. Nonetheless, both can trigger feelings of restlessness, irritability, tension, and a sense of being overwhelmed.

Physiological Reactions: Stress and anxiety can manifest in similar physiological reactions in the body. These may include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, rapid breathing, muscle tension, sweating, and gastrointestinal disturbances, poor immune health, joint pain, and sleep disturbances. These bodily responses are part of the fight-or-flight response, which is activated in stressful or anxiety-provoking situations.

prolonged stress effects on health

What is the connection between stress, anxiety, and hormones?

Prolonged stress and anxiety increase circulating hormones, often in undesirable amounts, leading to increased inflammation, impaired immune system, increased infections, poor sleep, poor concentration, exhaustion and can even exacerbate exiting symptoms, disease, or illness.

It is the adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, that play a crucial role in the production and regulation of several hormones involved in stress and anxiety responses. The adrenal glands also help to regulate metabolism, blood pressure, electrolyte balance and sexual development.

Adrenal glands produce several important hormones, including:

  • Cortisol: This hormone is involved in the body's stress response, helps regulate metabolism, and plays a role in immune function and inflammation control.

  • Aldosterone: It regulates blood pressure and electrolyte balance by controlling the levels of sodium and potassium in the body.

  • DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone): This hormone serves as a precursor to the sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.

  • Epinephrine (adrenaline): This hormone is released during the body's stress response and helps prepare the body for "fight-or-flight" situations. It increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, providing a burst of energy.

  • Norepinephrine (noradrenaline): It works in conjunction with epinephrine to help regulate the body's stress response, but with a stronger effect on blood pressure.

Techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Practice Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques: Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or box breathing, can help activate the body's relaxation response and calm your mind.

  • Engage in Regular Physical Exercise: Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, improving mood, and promoting better sleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. Find activities you enjoy, such as walking, jogging, dancing, yoga, or swimming.

  • Prioritize Self-Care: Take time for self-care activities that promote relaxation and well-being. This can include activities like reading, taking a bath, listening to music, engaging in hobbies, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or spending quality time with loved ones. Set aside dedicated time for self-care regularly.

  • Maintain a Balanced Lifestyle: Pay attention to your daily routines and make sure you are practicing healthy habits. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a wholefood diet, and avoiding excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety. A well-nourished body and mind are better equipped to handle stress.

  • Herbal medicine: can be used as an adjunct therapy with the above techniques to assist in reducing the physiological and psychological symptoms associated with stress and anxiety.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with stress and anxiety is unique and what works for one person may not work for another. Working with your healthcare provider to develop a personalised treatment is key in managing stress and anxiety effectively.

Acne naturopath Geelong, eczema, skin naturopath

Abby is a degree qualified Naturopath specialising in Skin health, acne, dermatitis and rosacea. She is available for face to face and online consultations here at The Sana Co.


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