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Chronic stress and its effects

Read time: 2 mins

Evolution has equipped us with ingenious stress responses (flight or fight), to maximise our chances of survival against life threatening threats. An adrenaline rush prompted by our brain during threats increases our blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels enabling us to remain alert and respond to threat. Cortisol, a stress hormone released by the brain keeps these levels high as long as the perceived threat persists.

When such, response of the body stays for a longer duration during chronic stress, it could be harmful since adrenaline is rapidly cleared from the bloodstream, but cortisol remains for a relatively longer duration. Prolonged presence of cortisol is detrimental to brain cells resulting in their damage and death thus leading memory loss, premature ageing, anxiety, depression and other mental issues.

Chronic stress also affects muscular, respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, endocrine and reproductive systems. Involuntary processes such as immunity or metabolism take a back seat during a flight or fight response, and such a long lasting suppression of crucial organ systems can damage the overall physiology and health. Hence, continual untreated stress often manifests into serious health problems.

Positive lifestyle and behavioural changes like healthy eating, exercises and adequate sleep, is the first step towards managing chronic stress. Physical activity ensures release of endorphins (feel good chemicals) in the brain that help to combat depression or anxiety. Stress is a brilliant evolutionary challenge, and our adaptation or survival relies entirely on how we cope with or overcome various potential stressors.