Under pressure – constantly: When we experience constant stress, it doesn’t just affect our mood. The most important alarm signals at a glance.
Many people dismiss stress as a bad thing per se. But it’s not that simple, because in principle it is a natural and useful reaction of the body.
And that’s what’s behind it: As soon as we perceive a situation as threatening, our body switches to alert mode. “The reaction is triggered in the brain,” says doctor Ralf Suhr, chairman of the Health Knowledge Foundation. As a result, messenger substances called stress hormones are released – for example norepinephrine, adrenaline and cortisol.
As a result, our body releases more energy – we become more alert and can react more quickly. This was crucial for our ancestors when a dangerous animal suddenly appeared from which we had to flee.
From the peak of stress to the permanent state
However, these days it is rarely an encounter with a wild bear that triggers a stress reaction in us. Instead, it is our everyday life: high demands, constant time pressure, sensory overload. All of this can cause long-term stress, which has a negative impact on our health .
Because the ongoing stress doesn’t give the body time to recover. Disease-causing processes can accelerate in the event of chronic stress. “However, a direct connection between stress and certain diseases cannot be proven so easily in studies,” explains Ralf Suhr.
Nevertheless, various diseases are associated with chronic stress. In this way, it can suppress the immune system – as a result, you are often more susceptible to infections. In addition, stressed people often develop unhealthy behaviors. For example, you sleep poorly or too little, eat hastily or unhealthy, or smoke.
- Sleep disorders: what causes them and what helps
This is how stress manifests itself in our body
How can stress manifest itself in the body? An overview:
1. in the gastrointestinal area
One consequence of stress can be digestive problems – even if you have eaten foods that you actually tolerate well. “Some people then have a tendency to have diarrhea,” says Prof. Mazda Adli, psychiatrist at the Fliedner Clinic in Berlin and stress researcher at the Charité.
However, with constant stress it can also happen that the intestines become rather sluggish. Some people’s appetite also decreases. Stress can also contribute to heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome, as Adli explains.
2. in the cardiovascular system
When we are under acute stress, our heart beats faster and blood pressure rises. If stress becomes permanent, it promotes diseases such as high blood pressure . “ Cardiac arrhythmias are also possible,” says Mazda Adli.
Chronic stress is also a risk factor for heart attacks or strokes, which can be exacerbated by unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.
3. in the muscles
Stress can lead to tension. This could be the neck muscles, which are so tight that you can hardly turn your head. Back pain can also occur. All of this often leads to incorrect strain on the musculoskeletal system. Potential (painful) consequences: a slipped disc or lumbago.
4. in metabolism
Stress may contribute to metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes or elevated cholesterol levels.
“When stressed, the body releases more of its energy reserves, both sugar and fat, because it feels threatened,” explains Mazda Adli. “At the same time, stress hormones promote resistance to insulin.” The result: the blood sugar level rises.
The stress hormone cortisol also ensures that the body continually replenishes its sugar and fat depots. This can result in the body being provided with more energy than it ultimately needs.
This excess sugar and fat can lead to increased storage of abdominal fat, constrict the bloodstream and put strain on the blood vessels and promote metabolic diseases.
- Mutual connection: Stress can be dangerous for these organs
5. in the psyche
“The brain and therefore the psyche react very sensitively to chronic stress,” says Mazda Adli. Because constant stress puts the body on permanent alert. This constant activation leads to mental illness. “The best-known mental illness resulting from stress is depression,” explains Adli.
The increased release of cortisol can also cause concentration to decline, and long-term pressure can manifest itself in the form of memory problems. Since stress is usually associated with a feeling of fear, anxiety and panic attacks can occur in the medium to long term.
Tips to escape constant stress
Anyone who notices that stress has permanently entered their own life should try to counteract it. Conscious, regular recovery phases in everyday life are a good start. These can be short mindfulness exercises such as consciously breathing in and out. Regular exercise also counteracts chronic stressHelpful in the long term: work on stress-promoting thought and behavior patterns. For example, beliefs like “I have to be perfect and not make mistakes.”.