Monday, September 29, 2008

Stress: Overview

Stress is actually a survival mechanism built into your brain. When your brain detects what it perceives as dangerous, it releases stress hormones such as adrenaline. For example, these hormones cause your muscles to tense, your breathing increases and your mind starts to race. When the danger goes away, your muscles relax, your breathing slows down and your mind begins to calm.

If the stress trigger continues over a long period of time you then experience chronic stress. This causes your brain to release a new chemical called cortisol. Studies have shown that increased cortisol appears to be related to depression. Higher cortisol levels also affect many body functions such as higher blood pressure, hyperglycemia, and impaired immune functioning. This is just a sampling of what can go wrong in your body because of increased long-term stress.

Although it is helpful in short-term stress situations, the constant release of cortisol into your blood stream can be a major contributor of disease. In women, too much cortisol can decrease bone density. One study found that 40-year old women with high stress levels had similar bone density to 70-year old women.

Interestingly, when couples have arguments, women release more stress hormones than their partners. When men do experience stress, they tend to return to a more relaxed state quicker.
One of the most physically damaging aspects of stress is how it affects your immune system. The risk of an infectious disease increases the longer the stress hormones remain in your body. Some research shows that chronic stress levels and a diminished immune system can increase the likelihood that you might become infected with viruses linked to cancer. Another study found that when elderly people got flu shots, those with high stress levels received the least benefit from the vaccination.

What this all means is that stress has minimal affect on the bodies of people who practice stress relaxation exercises: Natural Breathing, Muscle Relaxation, and Mind Calming. People who do this are simply stronger in the face of problems! The most recent discovery is that all this takes place at the level of your genes. As you calm yourself, your DNA changes the genetic makeup in your body.

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1 comment:

Patrick Philbrick said...

We have an entire relaxation exercise on our web site. It is free and can be dowloaded at