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Constant stress can put your health at risk

By Stepanie Wachman, Executive Coach

Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against threats from predators and other aggressors. Such threats are rare today, but that doesn’t mean that life is free of stress.
I know how much stress most you face, having been in your shoes and working with the multiple demands each day that comes from your job, such as shouldering a huge workload,  taking care of your family, or just looking at the long list of email that you have to respond to daily. Your body treats these so-called minor hassles as threats. As a result you may feel as if you’re constantly under assault. But you can fight back. You don’t have to let stress control your life.

Understanding the natural stress response-If your mind and body are constantly on edge because of excessive stress in your life, you may face serious health problems. That’s because your body’s “fight-or-flight reaction” — its natural alarm system  is constantly on.
When you encounter perceived threats — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear. When the natural stress response goes haywire- The body’s stress-response system is usually self-regulating. It decreases hormone levels and enables your body to return to normal once a perceived threat has passed. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

But when the stressors of your life are present, leaving you feeling stressed, tense, nervous or on edge, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The less control you have over potentially stress-inducing events and the more uncertainty they create, the more likely you are to feel stressed. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to your body’s stress response.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems:

•    Heart disease
•    Sleep problems
•    Digestive problems
•    Depression
•    Obesity
•    Memory impairment

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.
Stephanie Wachman, Executive Coach, www.stephaniewachman.com, 720-232-3693
© Life In Balance LLC

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