Stressed Out: How Our Key Body Systems React To Stress
You may think being stressed out is something everyone experiences. But when do you know if your stress level has tipped the scales and how can you fight stress productively?
Men are traditionally thought to be strong, masculine, and indestructible. But here’s something else we recently learnt about men: Men are three times more likely to commit suicide, reveals a shocking study led by Professor Rory O’Connor, a Glasgow University psychologist and leading authority on suicide. But why men, you ask? The reason is simple – because they are less likely to ask for help. Perhaps it’s the need to hold up to societal expectations of being strong and having it put together all the time.
Research has suggest that men find it hard to open up and talk about their feelings and this causes a higher possibility of them turning to risky behaviours when they are depressed.
Identifying Stress Triggers
In this day and age, stress is unavoidable. And perhaps more so in Singapore as we faced common problems such as stress over work or studies, financial worries, family woes, struggles with social interaction and feelings of loneliness, or maybe even unemployment.
The thing is, stress is rarely due to a single event but often results from a series of interrelated social, biological, environmental and psychological factors.
At the end of the day, remember that the first step to coping with stress is knowing that moderate amount of stress may be good for you but if you sense that you are unable to cope, remember that you are not alone and help is available.
Did you know that our key body systems react to stress in these ways?
1. Nervous System
When you are stressed, physically or psychologically, the body suddenly shifts its energy resources to coping with the perceived threat. In what is known as the “fight or flight” response, the sympathetic nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. In simpler terms, these hormones make the heart beat faster, raise blood pressure, change the digestive process and boost glucose levels in the bloodstream. Once the crisis passes, the body systems usually return to normal.
2. Musculoskeletal System
Under stress, muscles tense up. The contraction of muscles for extended periods can trigger tension headaches, migraines and various musculoskeletal conditions.
3. Respiratory System
Stress can make you breathe harder and cause rapid breathing or hyperventilation which can bring on panic attacks in some people.
4. Cardiovascular System
Acute stress is acquainted with being stuck in traffic momentarily. It causes an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscles. Blood vessels that direct blood to the large muscles constrict due to the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Repeated episodes of acute stress can cause inflammation in the coronary arteries, thought to lead to heart attacks.
**P.S. Our arteries tend to constrict with stress because of adrenaline. This will make us tense and able to run away from danger such as a stalker or our bosses.
5. Endocrine System
Adrenal glands— when the body is stressed, the brain sends signals from the hypothalamus, causing the adrenal cortex to produce cortisol and the adrenal medulla to produce epinephrine, of which we sometimes call stress hormones. Liver — when cortisol and epinephrine are released, the liver produces more glucose, a blood sugar that would give you the energy for “fight or flight” in an emergency.
6. Gastrointestinal System
Stress increases gut sensitivity and may lower the threshold for sensing gut events. For example, psychological stressors can increase heartburn symptoms in gastroesophageal reflux disease. Stress may also affect the stomach emptying and intestinal transit, resulting in gastric discomfort and change in bowel habits.
7. Reproductive System
In men, excess amounts of cortisol, produced under stress, can affect the normal functioning of the reproductive system. Chronic stress can impair testosterone and sperm production and cause impotence. Men who are stress ejaculate less and had a lower sperm count and concentration than those who are not under stress. Stress is also positively correlated with deformed and less mobile sperm.
8. Decreased Facial Attractiveness
The male hormone testosterone has been linked with a strong immune system and facial attractiveness in men. Men with higher cortisol levels were deemed less attractive as it may play a role in blocking testosterone’s appeal to potential mates.
3 stress-busting tips to try
Dr Tan Hwee Sim, Specialist in Psychiatry & Consultant, Raffles Counselling Centre shares tips on how to alleviate stress.
2. Learn how to say ‘no’ Simple, but effective. Where a ‘no’ is the appropriate response, say it without guilt.
3. Manage your time Take one thing at a time. Don’t overdo things. Create time buffers to deal with unexpected emergencies. Recognise that your day-to-day problems and responsibilities are the things that cause stress in your life. Tackle them with a system that works for you.Pressure or anger releases adrenaline in the body. Exercise helps to reduce it, and produces ‘good mood’ substances in the brain. So go for a brisk walk around the block when you feel tense, or try some regular exercise after work.