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Why can stress make you sick?

Stress and your body

 

Why can stress make you sick? Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations (sometimes real, sometimes only perceived). Stress can be good, when you only feel stress or anxiety for a short time, like for a test or a job interview. Through this feeling of stress you are more alert, it can temporary gives you an extra boost of energy, which increases your performance. But if it is chronic or you experience stress for a longer period, it can be harmful and you can even become sick. Why is this?

Attacked by a lion?

Well, your body is amazing! One of the tricks your body can do is, when you are feeling stressed, your body has a chemical reaction as a means of survival. When in example you are attacked by a lion, you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as ‘fight-or-fight’, or as the stress response. During this stress, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. Well, maybe being attacked by a lion is not something you daily think about, but it is just an example. You can also think about being ‘attacked’ by a gun or a car moving fast in your direction But let’s picture for now, you are being attacked by a lion…

Your brain controls you!

Do you know that it is actually your brain that controls your body? Your brain decided in this very short time on which element of your body you need to focus on. Do you need to run from this lion? Then, your brain sends extra blood to your legs so you are all of a sudden stronger than usual and you can run. All this, your brain does in a super-fast movement. It takes a lot of energy, so therefore the brain has no energy anymore to give to some other systems, which seem at this moment less relevant. You need to generate all your power to run from this lion, therefore your brain switches off your digestion system and your immune system.

Immune system and digestion switches off

Why putting energy in digesting food or fighting diseases when you have to run for this lion, the brain thinks. Having less focus on your immune system and digestion system just for a short time because you need to run for a lion is okay for your body. But what if you have chronic stress? What if you think too much, or your job is making you stressed? You have mental stress. Therefore the brain puts all the energy and blood to the brain as a survival mechanism and switching off the immunity and digestion system for longer periods. Therefore you can feel stomach aches, upsetting stomach, liver problems, pancreas problems etc after stressful periods or become sick more easily. By not digesting your food properly your internal organs will not get the nutrients, vitamins and oxygen that they usually should get.

So what to do when you are too stressed?

One of the fastest ways to reduce stress is to do exercise or to receive massage. Because by massage and exercise you reduce the level of cortisol in your blood stream faster. Cortisol is a hormone that increases in your blood when you are stressed. This is a good hormone to have only for a small amount of time during the moment in which you need to be extra alert or you need to ‘fight or flight’. But having a lot of cortisol in your body for a longer time is contra-productive because your body focusses only on being alert. During stress and increasing of cortisol your body is not producing other hormones that you need to feel relaxed and happy. These other hormones, also called the happy hormones like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, exotoxin, and vasopressin etc. are improved by massage.

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