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How stress can damage your brain and body

0 2 years ago

We all know what stress feels like physically — though the symptoms vary by person. Some people experience shakiness or a racing heart, while others develop muscle tension, headaches or stomach aches. But what we might not realize is that our physiological responses to life’s stresses and strains can have deeper, less obvious, repercussions for just about every organ and system in the body.

“I think people really underestimate just how big the effects are,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine. When you experience stress, your brain triggers the release of a cascade of hormones — such as cortisol, epinephrine (a.k.a., adrenaline), and norepinephrine — that produce physiological changes. These changes, called the stress response or the fight-or-flight response, are designed to help people react to or cope with a threat or danger they’re facing.

The trouble is that these changes can and do occur in response to stressors that are not life-threatening — situations like work deadlines, traffic jams, financial pressures and family strife — and over time, they can take a toll on the body and mind. “People understand big stressors, but they don’t pay attention to smaller accumulating stressors that make a difference, too,” said Kiecolt-Glaser.

The whole-body impact of stress

What follows is a detailed look at how stress can affect many organs and systems in the body, from head to toe.


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