Stress Kills, Literally! The Biology of Stress Simplified.

We’ve all heard of the harmful effects stress can have on the human body. Although there is an abundance of information regarding the importance of leading a stress free lifestyle, few have made satisfactory claims to draw a causal relationship between tranquil living and the biological effects it may produce.

What’s always bound our curiosity is how can one’s state of mind affect the physical body, and, how realistic is the saying “stress kills”? Well, we’ve put together a BRIEF rundown on the biology of stress and the reality of its implications on your body and wellbeing.

For those of you that don’t believe much in the eastern philosophy of meditation and tranquil living, it’s time to reconsider for what you’re about to read isn’t science fiction, its conventional medical wisdom.

Ever wonder how your internal organs, such as the liver, kidneys, intestines, pancreas or even heart know what to do and when to do it? We did, and what we found wasn’t surprising but nevertheless very interesting. Our brains control the entire show. For example, the brain sends a continuous flow of chemical and hormonal signals to instruct the heart to beat. The heart does not beat on its own. When it comes to organ regulation, the brain’s dominion over the body can be divided into two systems; sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system’s general purpose is to mobilize the body’s resources to induce a “fight or flight” response.  And the parasympathetic nervous system is used to conserve energy and help rebuild, regenerate, and detoxify the body amongst other things. Take a look at the figure to get a better understanding of how the nervous system is divided up and what each general part does.

To summarize the function of the sympathetic nervous system, it diverts blood flow away from the intestines and skin and sends it to skeletal muscles and lungs, dilates bronchioles of the lungs, which allows for greater oxygen intake, dilates pupils for greater perception, increases renin secretion (an enzyme that regulates blood pressure) and several other things that probably wouldn’t make sense to most of the readers.

So what does this mean in laymen terms? When you’re stressed, your brain releases hormones and neurotransmitters to slow down or completely stop certain internal bodily functions so that the energy and oxygen can be diverted to your muscles, lungs, eyes, and parts of your brain that allow you to become hyper-aware of what’s going on all around you. This is the EXACT same system that is activated when you are running away from a hungry tiger. Hyper-activation of this system is a major reason why some people become extremely agitated and hypersensitive to everything when stressed at work. When people are in a constant state of anxiousness and stress, the body sends a signal to get rid of urine and other digestive waste. As a matter of fact, your digestive system shuts off, not allowing the intestines to effectively absorb nutrients from ingested food. In other words, if someone is under a lot of stress constantly, the food they eat isn’t properly absorbed because the digestive system isn’t exactly functioning and is being directed to empty itself constantly. Furthermore, the constant release of various enzymes increases blood pressure and can be deadly to those suffering from heart disease.

The purpose of this system is to help you run away or fight against a threat. When this system is activated it releases certain hormones that can prove extremely beneficial when running away from an attacking dog, but at the same time, this exact system is activated when your stressed at work, and in the long run, chronic release of these hormones degrade neural function in the brain, erode tissue in arteries and organs, and fog mental processes. What’s scary is that if certain internal organs have slowed down or halted their functioning long enough, toxic build up occurs, bacterial and viral infections take over, and after a certain point, your organs can no longer repair themselves. This is also a major reason why people that are stressed often get sick often.

Now, the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “rest and digest” system, promotes calming of nerves so that your body can return to regular functioning and enhances digestion. This system allows your body to divert blood flow away from your skeletal muscles to your internal organs. Ever wonder why your muscles are weak when you wake up in the mornings? It’s partly because the blood flow is diverted away from skeletal muscles and takes some time to get the blood flowing again. Blood flow is ESSENTIAL for your organs because that’s where all the nutrients, hormones, and oxygen are found. It should be no surprise that the more blood an organ receives, the healthier it’d be. Meditation, sleep and relaxation can all activate this system and help your body restore itself.

Therefore, it is extremely important to allow your conscious mind to reach a tranquil state so that your body can spend its resources to literally heal itself. By now you’re probably wondering, “How in the world am I going to get my mind to slow down and just relax?” For one thing, deep sleep is excellent for activating this system. Also, this is where the eastern philosophies of meditation come into play. The reality is you don’t have to practice these philosophies, just incorporate certain aspects of it into your daily routine. Check back in a few days and we’ll post some techniques on how to live a somewhat tranquil lifestyle.

UPDATE- June 17th, 2011

Check out our article on the paradox of stress. Although too much stress can be very detrimental, just enough stress for the mind and body is very beneficial.

7 comments on “Stress Kills, Literally! The Biology of Stress Simplified.”

  1. Hunter says:

    Great article! I read somewhere that eskimos, whose diet consists mainly of almost nothing but whale blubber, have lower levels of cholesterol and a lower death rate due to heart disease. The reason? They don’t worry at all. They eat, sleep, procreate, and just enjoy their lives. Simple and effective.

    1. jake says:

      don’t the Eskimos have the highest rates of meth addictions? Life would be a lot better as a fisherman in some pacific island town. Got the beaches, the bitches, and serenity.

      1. david says:

        “the bitches”…..loll

  2. dick Jones says:

    Wow another great article! This was very informative, I can’t wait to see these techniques on how to stay calmer throughout my day

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *