How Stress Affects the Nervous System

We all hate to feel under stress, but sometimes it seems impossible to avoid. When under stress, our bodies take a toll which often leads to numerous physical and psychological problems. Did you realize that your body’s complex nervous system can be greatly affected by stress? Here is how stress affects the nervous system. 

Where Stress Begins

Our stress response begins in our brain. As our body is in constant communication with our brains, it will send messages to trigger our stress hormones to be released when something happens to upset us. Hearing a loud sound or having an emotional response to a situation all signals to our brain to start this stress response. This happens within our autonomic nervous system. 

What is the Autonomic Nervous System?

Breathing, pulse, and digestion are all automatic responses in our bodies which are all a part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It controls everything you don’t specifically think about. This important system is made up of two different parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. 

  • The sympathetic nervous system works to give us a burst of energy when the body senses it is in trouble. Some have referred to it as our body’s gas pedal or the fight or flight response. This is an important part of the nervous system. The stress response your body has to a scary situation is actually for our good. The problem is when your body lingers in this state thus causing chronic stress. 
  • The parasympathetic nervous system is the direct counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system. The PNS allows your body to relax and fall into a state of “rest and digest”. It also helps you to breathe slower and lowers your heart rate.

What Kinds of Stress Affect the Nervous System?

There are two kinds of stress that are referred to as acute and chronic stress. Acute stress happens when a sudden or unexpected event happens like a car accident or receiving bad news. However, acute stress doesn’t have to be caused by something that is life-altering. This common type of stress occurs on a daily basis for us triggered by phone calls or tasks that need completion. A simple way to put it is that acute stress is short-term stress. 

On the other hand, chronic stress is when your body is in a consistent state of stress. Sadly, this long-term stress can lead to health and emotional problems.  A study found that chronic stress puts your autonomic nervous system into overdrive. Elevated stress levels ultimately lead to numerous health problems.

Ways To Manage Your Stress

If you think you have chronic stress, the best thing you can do for yourself is to manage your stress. Here are some great tips for stress management. 

  • Identify what stresses you out. Avoiding all stress is not realistic for most people, but if you are able to figure out what is causing you to stress, you can adapt with some stress-relieving techniques. 
  • Spend time in nature. The sunlight does wonders for our physical and mental health. It gives you the vitamin D your body needs. It can also trigger serotonin production which is essential for stress relief. 
  • Exercise. When you are feeling particularly stressed, pop in some headphones and go for a nice walk. The endorphins created by exercise will help you feel relaxed and more ready to meet your challenges. 
  • Aromatherapy. Diffusing essential oils in your home can have a delightful and relaxing effect. Try diffusing some lavender or citrus EOs in your home or office space. 
  • Chiropractic care. Since stress affects the nervous system, chiropractic care is a great way to keep your nervous system functioning optimally. By utilizing regular chiropractic visits, your body and nervous system will thank you. 

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The autonomic nervous system is responsible for all of the unconscious actions in our body. This includes activities such as keeping our heart rate stable, digesting food, and breathing. When we experience stress, this system becomes overactive and can lead to problems like high blood pressure, digestion issues, and difficulty breathing. If you are feeling stressed out on a regular basis, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss how to get your autonomic nervous system back under control.

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