It may happen more than we realize.
Most of us know that stress is detrimental to health. But is it as big a problem as heart disease, or cancer, or diabetes? We probably don’t think so, but we’re probably wrong.
We’re not talking about the occasional stressful day or event that can’t be avoided — that won’t necessarily kill you. We’re talking about chronic stress. It’s the difference between a bad day at work vs. a bad job, or a fight with your spouse versus a hostile relationship. In chronic stress, the things that are stressful are almost always present.
Let’s start with a brief explanation. Stress, be it chronic or occasional, is what we feel in the face of harmful or threatening situations. When we feel stress, we experience a stress reaction, which is basically our bodies getting us ready to deal with the situation — either we fight or we flee.
Our brains, nervous systems, and endocrine systems all work together in the stress reaction. Putting it as simply as we can, when we’re stressed, the hypothalamus in the brain stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream. ACTH then stimulates the adrenal glands to produce corticoids, which help the body access energy stores in the body. The hypothalamus also activates the adrenal gland to produce epinephrine (AKA adrenalin). It is epinephrine that produces fast, short term high energy levels we need to fight or flee.
“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”
– George Burns