The Effects of Stress On the Nervous System

If you’ve ever noticed your pounding heart, tense muscles, and rapid breathing during a stressful time, that’s your nervous system at work. While your body’s stress response may have helped your ancestors avoid saber-toothed tigers in the past, when this response is chronically activated you are at risk for a number of diseases and health concerns. Chronic stress has been linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, mood disorders, addictions, insomnia, and more.1 Find out how stress affects the brain and nerves, the effects of chronic stress on the nervous system, and lastly, how to recover.

Understanding the Nervous System 

The nervous system is composed of two parts:

  • The central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord
  • The peripheral nervous system, which consists of nerves that branch off from the spinal cord and extend to all parts of the body
The big job of the nervous system is to transmit signals between the brain and the rest of the body, including the internal organs. Significantly, without the nervous system we would not be able to move, breathe, think, and more.2

Within the central nervous system lies two subcategories: the sympathetic nervous system, which initiates the stress response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body rest and return to day-to-day functioning.3 

How Stress and the Nervous System Are Linked 

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When we are confronted with a stressful experience, the amygdala part of the brain sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which activates the nervous system and adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream. As adrenaline circulates through the body, it brings about a number of physiological changes, such as that pounding heart and rapid breathing.4 Even blood pressure goes up. These changes can happen so quickly that many people don’t even notice them.

When adrenaline subsides, the nervous system keeps your body revved up with cortisol. When the threat passes, cortisol levels are meant to fall, but for many people who deal with chronic stress, perceived threats are constant, leading the body to stay at high alert. 

How Anxiety & Stress Can Affect Our Nerves 

When the body remains in a state of chronic stress, persistent surges of adrenaline and high cortisol levels can wreak havoc. Adrenaline can damage blood vessels and arteries, raising blood pressure and increasing risk of heart attacks or strokes. High cortisol levels create physical changes that boost the body's energy stores, indirectly contributing to the buildup of fat tissue and weight gain. Common side effects of stress include:5

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Sleep problems
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Social withdrawal
Serious health concerns and diseases associated with stress include:6

  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Type II diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Addiction
  • Mood disorders like anxiety and depression

Recovering From Chronic Stress

Identifying your triggers is a good start in recovering from chronic stress. Here are some other actions to consider: 

  • Practice mindfulness: Researchers have found that mindfulness impacts two different stress pathways in the brain, altering brain structures and activity in regions associated with attention and emotion regulation.7 Mindfulness practices can include meditation, yoga, mindful breathing and more. 
  • Exercise: During exercise, the body pumps out endorphins, feel-good transmitters that act as the perfect defense against stress hormones.8 Exercise doesn’t have to require a gym membership or multiple hours of your day. Starting small with activities you enjoy is a great way to build an exercise routine you’ll stick to.
  • Eat healthy foods: A proper diet can counterbalance the negative impact of stress by strengthening the immune system, stabilizing your mood, and reducing blood pressure.9 Squeeze in some stress-busting foods like dark chocolate, salmon, eggs, and turmeric
  • Get more sleep: A lack of sleep can lead to higher levels of stress, frustration, depression and anxiety. In addition to exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and practicing mindfulness, having a solid sleep routine can also help you catch up on your Z’s.
  • Limit screen time: Research shows there is a connection between screen time and increased anxiety and depression. If you feel like you spend too much time on your device, it may be time to cut back.
  • Try Brillia: Brillia is a safe and impactful remedy that helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress without harsh chemicals or harmful side effects. Brillia works best in tandem with healthier lifestyle choices, such as following a nutritious diet, controlling screen time, getting adequate sleep and practicing mindfulness. Review the science behind Brillia and learn more about whether it's right for you.

References: 1https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder, 2https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/neuro/conditioninfo/parts, 3https://open.lib.umn.edu/humanbiology/chapter/3-2-parts-of-the-nervous-system/, 4https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response, 5https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987, 6https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder, 7https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation, 8https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469, 9https://exploreim.ucla.edu/nutrition/eat-right-drink-well-stress-less-stress-reducing-foods-herbal-supplements-and-teas/
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