The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. When we feel pressure or stress the adrenal glands, situated on the kidneys, produce more of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol and release them into the bloodstream. These hormones speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. Blood vessels open wider to let more blood flow to large muscle groups, putting our muscles, especially our ‘fight or flight’ muscles in the hips and shoulders, on alert.The liver releases some of its stored glucose to increase the body’s energy, sweat is produced to cool the body, our hands may get tingly, and our brain may seem to work at a faster pace. All of these physical changes prepare a person to react quickly and effectively to handle the pressure of the moment.
In an emergency situation, this can be an ideal response, as it can help us run away or fight, if needed. Often what happens though, due to the nature of our lives, or the cause of the stress, responding to pressure by running away or ‘fighting it out’, just aren’t options for us. So we have to stay put, continue working, and getting on with our jobs, school, looking after kids, etc. Here is where the stress response can cause problems, when it overreacts or fails to turn off and reset properly, when you can’t seem to find the space or time to clear the stress out or there seems to be a never ending line of things to be stressed about.
Long-term stressful situations can produce a lasting, low-level stress that’s hard on people. The nervous system senses continued pressure and can remain slightly activated and continue to pump out extra stress hormones over an extended period. This can wear out the body’s reserves, leave a person feeling depleted or overwhelmed, weaken the body’s immune system, and cause other health related problems.