Psychological effects of stress

Psychological effects of stress in our health

The psychological effects of stress on our health are difficult to measure. Physiological symptomatology of stress can be produced partially or almost completely by other emotions.

On the other hand, we must bear in mind that stress is a natural process that responds to our need to adapt to the environment and therefore the short term plays a very positive role for our survival. However, it is detrimental if it is very intense or extends over time.

Frequently, in our daily life, we find situations that elicit a stress response. This stress response arises mainly in situations characterized by unpredictability or uncontrollability, and may be due to external factors; as a traffic jam, a threat, a loss …; or by internal factors; as self-demand, competitiveness …

However, in all cases, the way in which we interpret or face it influences, since there are different types of tolerance to problems and different thresholds, depending on the person for whom stress can be a danger to his health.

Psychological effects of stress

How do psychological effects of stress work in our health?

Stress is not only related to the emotional states, but also to the state of health, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, immune system, with sexuality, and the behavior of the disease through the psychophysiological routes. That is, stress has branches with different variables that greatly affect our quality of life.

The changes that occur in response to situations of stress in our health are mediated by psychophysiological pathways of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system (HHS) represented in three phases.

Psychological effects of stress

Phases of stress

The SNA, acts in the 1st Phase of stress called the alarm or flight phase through its sympathetic branches (SNS) and parasympathetic (SNP), where the SNS activates the body in situations of stress  in our health in order to face it and the SNP inhibits it, thus allowing to overcome the situation and end the stress response.

The activation of the SNS causes an increase in the cardiac rate, blood pressure, glucose release, increase in plasma cholesterol, reductions and successive recoveries of gastric secretions, dilatation of the bronchi, reduction of the immunological competence, increase in the size or activity of the Thyroid, increased muscle tension, sweating, increased respiratory rate, hyperventilation, and stimulates the adrenal glands that release adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream.

The HHS, acts in the  2nd Phase of stress adaptation or resistance to the maintenance of the psychological effects of stress situation in our health, this route is slower and requires a longer exposure to the stressor, but it is also more lasting and less positive effects for the organism.

Psychological effects of stress

The activation of HHS causes elevation of the glucose level in the circulation, fluid retention, and inhibition of the secretion of hormones linked to reproduction and growth and insulin. In addition, there is a suppression of the activity of the immune system, an increase in gastric irritation and development of depressive feelings, due to the glucocorticoids that prepare the body to withstand stress in our health.

Finally, the 3rd Phase of stress occurs when the activation of the organism before the stressor does not diminish and extends over time. Resources lose the ability to adapt and we begin to perform below our physical and mental capacities, that is, we force ourselves, thus increasing the risk of contracting or accelerating the progress of the disease.

How to response psychological effects of stress

Therefore, for our health is very important the response we offer to stress, promoting active coping, thus developing coping strategies and emotional management, the expression of feelings and emotions, identifying emotional distress and encouraging the search for alternatives, increasing emotional communication and developing tolerance to frustration among others.

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