Family, job and everyday duties - more than two thirds of Germans feel stressed in everyday life and suffer from the negative consequences for health, well-being and sleep. But when do we actually feel stress? And what exactly happens in our body when we feel stressed?
Table of Contents
- What is stress?
- This is what happens when the body is stressed
- trigger for stress
- Consequences of chronic stress
- The most important stress hormones at a glance
- The stress hormone cortisol
- The stress hormone norepinephrine
- The stress hormone adrenaline
- stress & sleep
What is stress?
This is what happens when the body is stressed
Stress is actually a completely natural and initially positive reaction of our body to a negative stimulus in order to be able to cope with exceptionally stressful situations. Our brain then signals to the body that it should prepare for acute stress and increasingly releases the messenger substances cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline, which are known as stress hormones. They ensure that more energy reserves are made available and that our entire organism is prepared to perform at its best. Among other things, the blood sugar level and blood pressure rise, breathing accelerates and our senses are put on alert so that performance, alertness and attention are increased.
The effects of stress at a glance
- Rapid breathing
- Increasing heart rate and blood pressure
- Increased blood sugar production
- Increased oxygen transport to the muscles
- Increased blood flow and muscle tension
- Increased release of messenger substances to strengthen the immune system
- Reduction in digestive and sexual function
Trigger for stress
Stress can arise in a wide variety of situations and can be caused by both physical and psychological stimuli. When and how strongly our body reacts to a stressful situation also depends on our personal stress resistance and varies from person to person. Stress does not only arise in unpleasant or negative situations. Possible triggers are, for example, severe physical or mental stress, accidents and injuries, but also illnesses and infections or a low blood sugar level.
Consequences & damage from chronic stress
Stress also arises in everyday situations, for example during sports, and helps us to withstand severe stress in an acute "dangerous situation". A permanently high level of stress, on the other hand, damages mental and physical health. Then stress hormones are constantly released and the body is kept on alert, which puts a constant strain on the cardiovascular system and also influences many other body processes. According to experts, this quickly leads to sleep disorders and depression and other health problems. And that despite the fact that sleep, especially after a pronounced stress reaction, is crucial for the body and mind to recover sufficiently from the stress, for energy stores to be refilled and for bodily functions to normalize.
An overview of the consequences of chronic stress
- high blood pressure
- Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
- Migraines & tension headaches
- Sleep disorders
- Weakened immune system
The most important stress hormones
If we register threatening stimuli, also known as "stressors", the nervous system is stimulated and the release of stress hormones is triggered in a kind of chain reaction
#1 The stress hormone cortisol
The best-known and most important stress hormone is cortisol/cortisol, which is formed in the adrenal cortex. Among other things, it has an effect on blood sugar and fat metabolism and has an anti-inflammatory effect. In times of stress, the main task of the hormone is to activate the metabolism in order to mobilize energy reserves and provide energy in the form of glucose. Cortisol therefore acts like a kind of stimulant that makes us alert and efficient in the short term and also has a certain control function in the interaction of stress hormones, because it regulates the release of noradrenaline and adrenaline.
The effect of cortisol on stress
- Increases energy supply, blood sugar level, blood pressure and respiratory rate as well as alertness and body temperature
- Reduces the sensation of pain, inhibits inflammatory processes
Blood cortisol levels actually follow a natural circadian rhythm, falling to a minimum at night and rising again in the early morning hours to initiate the waking process and wake us up. Acute and especially chronic stress disrupts this natural process and leads to an unnaturally high level of cortisol in the blood. This also influences the synthesis of the sleep hormone melatonin, which disrupts a regulated sleep rhythm and promotes sleep problems.
Noradrenaline activates the part of the nervous system that regulates the stress response and is an important basis for the formation of adrenaline. Among other things, it leads to an increase in blood pressure and heart rate and, in conjunction with the other stress hormones, supports an increase in blood sugar and oxygen supply in the body and brain. As a result of a stress reaction, noradrenlin is decisively involved in a rapid increase in alertness, alertness and motivation, increases the willingness to perform and has a positive influence on our motor skills.
The effect of norepinephrine on stress
- Increase in blood sugar levels, heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increased oxygenation, alertness, alertness and concentration
- Improves motivation and affects motor skills
Adrenaline is formed from the precursor noradrenaline and has an activating effect on numerous bodily functions. For example, adrenaline increases respiratory volume, blood pressure and heart performance in order to quickly provide the muscles with more oxygen and increase mental and physical activity. It supports the provision of energy through an increased blood sugar level and helps to quickly reduce less important bodily functions such as gastrointestinal activity or libido.
The effect of adrenaline on stress
- Expansion of the airways and bronchi, increase in blood pressure and blood sugar level
- Inhibition of digestion and sexual function
Stress & Sleep
Stress and mental stress are among the most common causes of problems falling asleep.Because as long as our body is under stress and on alert, the entire organism runs at full speed to provide energy for the extraordinary stress. This also affects other areas of the metabolism and hormone balance and in this way also influences our sleep patterns.
The hormone cortisol, which is particularly active in chronic stress, also plays an important role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle and acts as a kind of antagonist to the well-known sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin makes us tired in the evening and prepares the body for the rest phase of sleep. Over night, melatonin levels drop and our body produces more cortisol, which is then responsible for getting active and waking up in the morning after sleep.
A permanently elevated cortisol level due to stress, or one that is rising just before going to bed, activates our body exactly when it actually needs to rest. This often leads to problems falling asleep and promotes sleep and concentration disorders, which in turn has a negative effect on sleep and its important function for health, well-being and performance. In this way, a vicious circle quickly develops, because the body is permanently under tension in constant stress and the so urgently needed recovery also fails to materialize.
In order to sleep well and stay healthy, we should reduce stress, especially in the evening, and at the same time, especially in stressful phases of life, make sure not to neglect sleep and give our body enough time to recover.
Stress is the natural reaction to extreme physical or mental stress and activates the stress hormones cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline via the nervous system in order to make the body efficient in the short term.
Stress leads to an increase in blood sugar and blood pressure, activation of the cardiovascular system; breathing quickens and all the senses are put on alert for increased efficiency, alertness, and alertness.
Chronic stress puts the body under constant strain, is detrimental to health and well-being and can lead to sleep disorders and depression.
The stress hormones cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline work together and primarily serve to release the energy reserves in the body and brain.
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