A stressor is external stimulus that disturbs physical or mental equilibrium. Stress is your body’s response to physical or mental disturbances.
Our stress response provides energy to survive short periods of danger by fighting foes or fleeing to safety. The acute stress response is beneficial when activated for short periods of time on rare occasions.
The “fight-or-flight” response increases available energy by producing stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) that convert sugar and break down stored fat into instantly usable sources of energy.
Energy is redistributed to the organs that need it most, like the brain, heart and skeletal muscles, by increasing cardiac output and constricting blood vessels. This reaction causes blood pressure levels to rise.
Although beneficial in the short-term, when the “fight-or-flight” stress response is repeatedly or continuously activated it becomes chronic and harmful.
The chronic stress response causes the heart to work harder, which causes damage to arteries and plaque formation along with thickened blood vessels, making it harder for blood to travel. This chronic stress response leads to elevated blood pressure levels for prolonged periods of time.
The chronic stress response causes the base level of cortisol in the bloodstream to rise. When the base level of cortisol rises, it negatively impacts the immune system by suppressing the production of cytokines. Cytokines help mediate acute inflammatory reactions for wound healing and the production of natural killer cells and antibodies to fight disease.
Elevated cortisol levels send signals to the brain that the body needs more energy. Since sugar and fat are converted to usable energy, the chronic stress response causes the body to crave foods high in sugar and fat.