What is the effect of stress on your body? The World Health Organization (WHO) describes stress as the greatest threat to health of the 21st century. But what exactly is stress? How does it come about? And more importantly: What happens in our bodies when we are stressed? And what consequences does this have for our health? We would like to invite you over the next few minutes to learn more about how your body works and what influence your thoughts have on your body. Let us first deal with the question, “What is stress, exactly?” As human beings, in terms of our biological construction, we still function in exactly the same way as we did in ancient times, fighting mammoths while wielding clubs. And so back then, just as we do today, we were constantly scanning our environment to see where a danger (a mammoth, for example) might be lurking and how we can ensure our survival. Our brain plays the most important role in this situation. Our brain is the large and powerful control and command center where everything starts. All bodily reactions, the functions of the organs, and indeed every movement of the finger… These are all initiated and coordinated from here. All our experiences, situations we have been in and impressions we have made throughout our lives are stored in here, too. And so if a situation in life repeats itself, we have empirical data, experience that we can draw on. This ensures our survival with even greater speed and reliability. The processes in the brain are completed within a fraction of a sentence – not consciously perceptible and certainly not noticeable. Millions of processes are controlled every second, helping us in our daily lives and ensuring our survival. When our brain sees, smells, tastes, hears or feels something through our senses, this creates an emotion based on our experiences within a fraction of a second, which then has a physical reaction in the body. As our perceptions and thoughts differ, so do our reactions: while one perception or thought makes us feel relaxed, another can make us feel stressed. It might be a thought such as “How can I even manage all that?” Thus, stress means that a bodily reaction, a stress reaction, has been triggered in our bodies in rapid response to a negative perception or as a result of a negative thought. This reaction is preparing us for a fight, flight, or defensive action. As you can see, our biological functions are still as they were back in ancient times, and the mammoths of today bear names such as “time”, “performance anxiety”, “existential worries”, “balancing work and family life”, “negative thoughts”, and so on. So what effect does stress actually have on the body? Every negative thought activates our survival instinct: our bodies are getting ready for flight, fight, or a defensive action. Adrenaline or noradrenaline are released in preparation. There are up to 22 harmful physical reactions, known as the “stress metabolism”. Cortisol ensures that our heartrates do not just rocket for a brief period, but stay high over a longer period – just in case there will be a need for fight or flight. This suppresses the production of endorphins and the sleep hormone, melatonin. Depending on the number of negative thoughts we have over the course of a day, this can lead to disruption of sleep patterns, and this nervous state can practically become a permanent condition. Depression and burnout become more likely, and our immune system is increasingly weakened, while the allergy threshold decreases. The immune system is unimportant to fight or flight – it is about short-term survival, not our health. Sugars and fats are sent to power the muscles within a fraction of a second. The levels of sugar and fat in the blood immediately rise. Over time, the risk for diabetes type II, atherosclerosis, strokes and heart attacks increase, because we do not use that sugar and fat. We do not flee, but sit or stand in the car, in meetings, or at home. This leads to calcification and plaques in our blood vessels. The heart rate and pulse immediately rise. The reason? The blood should flow faster, so it can supply the muscles with energy – in the form of oxygen, fat, and sugar – faster. And all of this happens only as a result of thoughts in our everyday lives – not mammoths or saber-tooth tigers! We are looking at a fast, fascinating and highly efficient system for preserving our species. It offers us short-term protection from the saber-toothed tiger. We are exceptionally well-equipped to survive, but not live long, healthy and happy lives. What else happens in the body? The muscle tone improves; the muscles become tense again with each negative thought. The noticeable consequences often include everything from tension to herniated discs, tension headaches and chronic pain. The brain performance in the cerebrum is often shutdown, as conscious thought poses more of a hindrance to flight or fight responses: it takes too long. Instead, our brains turn to quick reflexes. Our concentration and mental performance drops. If you have ever had an intense argument, you might have noticed how the best arguments occur to you about 20 minutes after the conversation is over. This is a typical effect. In everyday life our negative thoughts cost us concentration – often on basic things – and lots of time that we might otherwise be able to use productively. The more negative thoughts we allow ourselves to have every day, the more our feeling of hunger is suppressed, too. In the evening, when our stress levels and tension subside a little, we get those well-known intense cravings. Our brain is signaling that it is better to create reserves, in case tomorrow is just the same and we don’t have any time to consume anything. So it is time to stock up on lots of calories, and stash as much as possible! The now heavy digestion that follows can also cost us our sleep and fat deposits form on various parts of the body: love handles, for example. Our desire for sex also decreases with every negative thought. In respect of a saber-toothed tiger or a mammoth, it might make sense, but this can cause tension in relationships. The growing concentration of free radicals in the body and the increased metabolism in particular mean that our cells age a lot faster than they would otherwise. It can also lead to cell degeneration and therefore increase the risk of cancer. Our thoughts have consequences: in the short, medium and long term. In everyday life, a thought takes no more than a second to travel through our entire body. The more frequently we think such stressful thoughts, the more we promote the negative short-, medium- and long-term consequences to our health and quality of life. As a rule, we do not feel the consequences of one individual thought in our bodies; our sensors are directed outward and not inward. We only notice our level of stress when it is already very high, when we have moist hands, for example. Sometimes, on others, we might notice things like red ears or random spots of red on the face – signs of high blood pressure. And all of that only because of our thoughts! Positive thoughts have precisely the opposite emotional and physical effect: the relaxation responses! Dopamine and serotonin are released in exactly these moments: the body’s own hormones that promote good health. Everything starts in the mind: Stress or health and wellbeing, too. Healthy thoughts just like disease-promoting ones. And who can dictate to us how we should think about something that happens in our lives or what we should worry about and what we should not give a second thought to? Our thoughts are free! If you are interested in being able to reducing your stress levels there where stress begins, i.e. in the head, then just ME offers scientific and medically proven methods to achieve such a sustainable effect. You know you deserve it!