There is a great story in the book called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky. The book presents various effects of stress on the body. It can be a little heady at times, but overall the book gives a good summation of why stress is not good for us. I would say that at least half of my practice directly and indirectly deals with the effects of stress.
Sapolsky tells a story about a researcher named Selye who began his work in the 1930s. At the time, he was looking for a hormone that came from the ovaries. He injected this unidentified hormone into rats. It turned out that he was not terribly good at handling the rats. It wasn’t uncommon for him to drop them, have to chase them, etc. When they biopsied the rats, they saw that they had stomach ulcers, enlarged adrenal glands and decreased immune tissue. This was the beginning of our understanding on the effects of stress.
Stress hormones can be a good thing if we are running away from the proverbial bear. However, bears don’t chase us often and when stress occurs, our body goes through the exact same physiologic response as if they did. Your digestion shuts down, your heart rate increases, hormone production shuts down, and blood flow to your muscles increases.
In the short term, the body can adapt to the bouts of stress. When the stress becomes chronic, our bodies don’t adapt as well and more patients end up in my office. Often, these patients don’t realize that stress has led to their constant fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, conceiving difficulties, or frequent colds and flus. Stress can also negatively affect digestion and cause chronic pain syndromes.
Help the body recover after chronic stress and respond better to it moving forward.