We generally use the word "stress" when we feel that everything seems to have become too much - we are overloaded and wonder whether we really can cope with the pressures placed upon us.
Stress is a feeling we all experience when we are challenged or overwhelmed. But more than just an emotion, stress is a hardwired physical response that travels throughout our entire body. In the short term, stress can be advantageous, but when activated too often or too long, our primitive fight or flight, stress response not only changes our brain but also damages many of the other organs and cells throughout our body.
Our adrenal gland releases the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, and norepinephrine. As these hormones travel through our blood stream, they easily reach our blood vessels and heart. Adrenaline causes our heart to beat faster and raises our blood pressure, over time causing hypertension. Cortisol can also cause the endothelium, or inner lining of blood vessels, to not function normally. Scientists now know that this is an early step in triggering the process of atherosclerosis or cholesterol plaque build up in our arteries. this brain-gut connection can disturb the natural rhythmic contractions that move food through our gut, with energy dense foods and carbs, causing us to crave comfort foods. But chronic stress can dampen function of some our immune cells, making us more susceptible to infections, and slow the rate we heal.