How your own organs can make you sick

By November 4, 2016Stress

What are these two yellowish things on top of your kidneys? Are they ovaries? Cancer? Or maybe little hats to keep your kidneys warm? Nope. These are the adrenal glands – your body’s adrenaline factories. They may seem small, and a lot of people don’t even know they have them, but they are essential for life. Here’s how:

What is adrenaline?

Do you remember the last time your brother gave you a fright, or a spider ran across your arm? That rush you felt that made your skin tingle, followed by the “EEEEK!”, the jump and the pounding heart? That is what we call an ‘adrenaline rush’, and it happens whenever the adrenal glands are activated to pump adrenaline through you system. Your adrenals release adrenaline whenever you’re faced with a highly stressful, exciting or fearful situation. It increases your blood circulation, makes your heart pump faster and gets your muscles ready for some serious action (like punching your brother in the face!)

The downside of the rush

Adrenaline is very useful – and necessary – to get your body into fight-or-flight mode. Without it, you won’t be able to run away from a burglar, or punch back when the gorilla attacks you. But when was the last time you had to wrestle a gorilla on your way to the office? (We hope the answer is ‘never’). Now, none of us would really like to go back to the Stone Age of mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers. However, our bodies are designed for it: to fight, move, build and run. They aren’t designed to sit behind a screen for 8 hours a day. So, what happens to these adrenals, when you don’t have any real dangers to face?

The effect of chronic stress

With a threat or stress to the body, the hypothalamus in your brain sends a signal to your adrenal glands which release adrenaline and cortisol to increase your heart rate and blood pressure. For short-term threats, everything goes back to normal quite quickly. However, when you sit glued behind your computer to finish that deadline for tomorrow, your adrenal factories work over-time, releasing cortisol and adrenaline into your body constantly. And this can make you sick. Some symptoms of this chronic leaking of adrenaline and cortisol into your body are:

  • Anxiety (hyperventilation, feeling anxious most of the time, panic attacks)
  • Depression
  • Tension type headaches (often resulting in a tight band-like feeling across the temples)
  • Muscle spasm (stress causes muscles to tense up, especially in the head, neck and shoulder area)
  • Weight gain or obesity (sometimes in association with “comfort eating”, it can increase the risk of diabetes)
  • Digestive problems (nausea, diarrhoea, cramps, constipation)
  • Heartburn (often aggravated by eating more and gaining weight, smoking more and consuming more alcohol to try to relax)
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heart problems (an increased heart rate and high levels of stress hormones can cause high blood pressure, putting one at risk of a heart attack or stroke)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Decreased libido and erectile dysfunction
  • Stress can have a negative effect on one’s fertility
  • A negative impact on one’s immune system
Read  Could you be suffering from workplace stress?

How to fight back

Unlike your forefathers, you may not be able to kill your computer, your boss or your job with a spear or a panga. (And we strongly advise you NOT to!) However, there are some practical steps you can take, so stress doesn’t kill you:

  • Try to identify what is causing your stress
  • Focus on getting regular exercise as this increases your body’s production of endorphins, the “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain
  • Try relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and massage)
  • Follow a healthy, balanced diet
  • Decrease your caffeine intake
  • Reach out to friends and family for support
  • Ensure you get enough sleep (aim for 7-8 hours, get into a routine and remove distractions such as the TV and computer from the bedroom)
  • Try to manage your time better (get up a bit earlier, make a list and work according to priority, ask for help)
  • Practise walking away and counting to 10 when you feel angry
  • Make time for hobbies or volunteer work
  • Seek professional help from your doctor or a psychologist, if you are struggling to cope

If you are worried about your stress-levels, just log onto the Hello Doctor App, and ask one of our doctors for some advice. Take control of your stress, so it doesn’t control you!

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