Learn, Share, Grow - How Stress Affects Your Body

learn share grow

May 8, 2023

Below is a lesson from TED-Ed on the affects of stress on your body, as well as our key learnings.

The Blue Courage team is dedicated to continual learning and growth.  We have adopted a concept from Simon Sinek’s Start With Why team called “Learn, Share, Grow”.  We are constantly finding great articles, videos, and readings that have so much learning.  As we learn new and great things, this new knowledge should be shared for everyone to then grow from.

How Stress Affects Your Body

 Key Learnings:

  • More than just an emotion, stress is a hard-wired physical response that travels through your entire body.
  • Short term - stress can be advantageous
  • When activated too often or for too long, your primitive fight or flight response can change your brain and damages many of your other organs and cells throughout your body.
  • The adrenal gland releases the hormones cortisol and epinephrine, also known as adrenaline and norepinephrine. As these hormones travel through your blood stream, they reach your blood vessels and heart. 
  • Adrenaline - causes your heart to beat faster, raises your blood pressure, and over time causes hypertension. 
  • Cortisol can cause your lining of your blood vessels to not function properly. This is an early step in causing cholesterol plaque build up in your arteries.
  • Together, affects of adrenaline and cortisol increases your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
  • When your brain senses stress, it activates your autonomic nervous system. Your brain communicates to your intestinal nervous system, that causes "butterflies" in your stomach and can disrupt the natural rhythmic contractions that move food through your gut, leading to irritable bowel syndrome, and increase your gut's sensitivity to acid which can cause heartburn. 
  • Stress can also change the composition and function of the gut bacteria which may affect your digestive and overall health.
  • Cortisol increases your appetite, telling your body to replenish its energy stores with energy dense foods and carbs (comfort food cravings.) 
  • High levels of cortisol can cause you to put on the extra calories as visceral or deep belly fat. This type of fat actively releases hormones and immune system chemicals called cytokines that can increase your risk of chronic disease.
  • Stress hormones affect the immune cells -  initially help to prepare to fight invaders and heal after injury. But chronic stress can dampen the affect of immune cells making your more susceptible to infections and slow the rate you heal. 
  • Chronic stress is associated with shortened telomeres, the shoelace tip ends of chromosomes that measure a cell's age. Telomeres cap chromosomes to allow DNA to get copied every time a cell divides without damaging a cells genetic code. They shorten with each cell division. When telomeres become too short, a cell can no longer divide and it dies. 
  • Other ways chronic stress can affect the body: acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, headaches, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, irritability. 
  • Life will always be filled with stressful situations. But what matters to your brain and body is how you respond to that stress. If you can view those stresses as challenges to control and master, rather than threats, you will perform better and stay healthy. 

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