Stress causes a surge of hormones in your body. When your body detects stress, a small region in the base of the brain called the hypothalamus reacts by stimulating the body to produce hormones that include adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones help you to deal with any threats or pressure you are facing – which is called the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and provides extra energy.
Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, also temporarily increases energy by triggering the release of glucose into the bloodstream, to help the person fight or run away. At the same time, other bodily functions which are not immediately needed, such as digestion, are suppressed.
The body’s response to stress usually regulates itself. As your hormone levels fall, your heart and blood pressure will return to normal.
Everyone needs a certain amount of stress or pressure to live well. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and motivates you throughout the day. However, stress becomes problematic when there’s too much or too little.
Whilst a lack of stress means your body is under-stimulated, stress that is too intense or prolonged, causes your body to release stress hormones over a long period. This increases the risk of a range of physical health problems including headaches, stomach upsets and high blood pressure. It can even increase the risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
More often, stress leads to psychological problems. It can make people feel distrust, anger, anxiety and fear, which in turn can destroy relationships at home and at work. Stress also plays a key role in the development of anxiety disorders and depression.
Long-term stress can play havoc with your immune system, and a recent study suggests it raises the odds of developing viral infections.
Other research found people who suffered from chronic stress at work were at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.