1. Stress Comes from the Outside

Your perception of events and the influences (such as health habits) on your body and mind actually cause chemical changes within your body. It’s all connected. It’s easy to understand why an event outside your control would cause you stress. If you’re not expecting something to happen, or if something difficult or negative occurs, you may not be prepared for it. Outside factors and events—a car accident, a pay cut, a bad snow storm—create stress in our lives all the time.

“Just as stress comes from the outside, it also comes from the inside.”

2. Stress Comes from the Inside

Just as stress comes from the outside, it also comes from the inside. It can be caused by your perception of events, rather than by the events themselves. A job transfer might be a horrible stress to one person and a magnificent opportunity to another. A lot depends on attitude. But even when the stress is undeniably external—say, all your money was just stolen—stress effects a host of changes inside your body. More specifically, stress in all its many forms interferes with the body’s production of three very important hormones that help you feel balanced and “normal”: serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine.

3. Sleep Soundly with Serotonin

Serotonin is the hormone that helps you get a good night’s sleep. Produced in the pineal gland deep inside your brain, serotonin controls your body clock by converting into melatonin and then converting back into serotonin over the course of a twenty-four-hour day. This process regulates your energy, body temperature, and sleep cycle. The serotonin cycle synchronizes with the cycle of the sun, regulating itself according to exposure to daylight and darkness, which is why some people who are rarely exposed to the sun, such as those in northern climates, experience seasonal depression during the long, dark winter months—their serotonin production gets out of whack. Stress can throw it out of whack, too, and one result is the inability to sleep well.

4. Survive with Noradrenaline

Noradrenaline is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands, related to the adrenaline that your body releases in times of stress to give you that extra chance at survival. Noradrenaline is related to your daily cycle of energy. Too much stress can disrupt your body’s production of noradrenaline, leaving you with a profound lack of energy and motivation to do anything. It’s that feeling you get when you just want to sit and stare at the television, even though you have a long list of things you absolutely have to do. If your noradrenaline production is disrupted, you’ll probably just keep sitting there, watching television.

5. Deal with Pain with Dopamine

Dopamine is a hormone linked to the release of endorphins in your brain.

Endorphins are those things that help kill pain. Chemically, it is related to opiate substances like morphine and heroin, and, if you are injured, your body releases endorphin to help you function. When stress compromises your body’s ability to produce dopamine, it also compromises your body’s ability to produce endorphins, so you become more sensitive to pain. Dopamine is responsible for that wonderful feeling you get from doing things you enjoy. It makes you feel happy about life itself. Too much stress, too little dopamine, and nothing seems fun or pleasurable anymore.

6. The Upside of the Stress Response

When your body is experiencing the stress response, it undergoes some very specific changes. Here’s what happens inside your body when you feel stress:

• Your cerebral cortex sends an alarm message to your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that releases the chemicals that create the stress response. Anything your brain perceives as stress will cause this effect, whether or not you are in any real danger.

• Your hypothalamus releases chemicals that stimulate your sympathetic nervous system to prepare for danger.

• Your nervous system reacts by raising your heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure. Everything gets turned “up.”

• Your muscles tense, preparing for action. Blood moves away from the extremities and your digestive system, into your muscles and brain.

• Your senses get sharper. You can hear better, see better, smell better, taste better. Even your sense of touch becomes more sensitive.

Sounds like a way to get things done, doesn’t it? Imagine yourself at the next office party, clever and funny, attracting crowds that hang on your every word. Stress can be great! No wonder it’s addictive.

7. The Downside of the Stress Response

The downside is that stress, while beneficial in moderate amounts, is harmful in excessive amounts, as are most things. More specifically, stress can cause problems in different systems all over your body. Some of the less desirable symptoms, directly related to the increase in adrenaline in the body, include the following:

• Sweating

• Cold extremities

• Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

• Muscle tension

• Dry mouth

• Confusion

• Nervousness, anxiety

• Irritability, impatience

• Frustration

• Panic

• Hostility, aggression

Long-term effects of stress can be even harder to correct, and include such things as depression, loss or increase of appetite resulting in weight changes, frequent minor illnesses, increased aches and pains, sexual problems, fatigue, loss of interest in social activities, chronic headaches, acne, chronic backaches, chronic stomachaches, and worsened symptoms associated with medical conditions such as asthma and arthritis.

8. What Goes On in the Brain

You already know that stress causes your cerebral cortex to begin a process that results in the release of chemicals to prepare your body to handle danger. But what else goes on in your brain when you are under too much stress? At first, you think more clearly and respond more quickly. But after you’ve reached your stress tolerance point, your brain begins to malfunction. You forget things. You can’t concentrate. You lose your willpower and indulge in bad habits like drinking, smoking, or eating too much.

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