How Stress Affects Your Physique part 2

Table of Contents

Welcome back everyone.

Today I’m continuing our series on stress and how it affects the way your body looks.

However before I do that, let’s get a quick re-cap of what we learned from our first post:

  1. Stress is any sort of stimulus (hurtful or helpful) that creates a mental, physical, chemical, hormonal, emotional, spiritual or psychological reaction in the body.
  2. Not all stress is bad. Some reactions in the body are necessary to our survival, like the converstion of Vitamin D from sunlight.
  3. There are 6 major types of stress: Physical, chemical, electromagnetic, pyschic or mental, nutritional, and thermal.
  4. We are constantly being bombarded with stress on a daily basis, mainly due to our modern, work-a-holic lifestyle.

As I mentioned in the first post, I am going to give you an overview of how the body (hormonally and chemically) react to stress and how that affects the way your body looks.

To understand how the body reacts to stress, we will first go over the branches of our nervous system.

And it just so happens, I’ve made a simple chart for you below:

Branches of the nervous system by Sirena Bernal
Branches of the nervous system by Sirena Bernal

Starting from the top, we have the first layer of our nervous system, the Central Nervous System. This is like our home base, where everything starts and originates from.

The Central Nervous System is made up of the brain and the spinal cord.

Branching off the spinal cord are the nerves that reach the limbs and organs. This is considered your Perhiperhal Nervous System (the nerves that reach your “periphery”.)

(This is where flow charts like this come in handy.)

From here, the Peripheral Nervous System branches off into the Autonomic Nervous System and the Somatic Nervous System.

The Autonomic Nervous System controls our involuntary responses: digestion, pooping, heart rate, salavation, perspiration, breathing, sexual arousaly, and all the other chemical and hormonal responses that just seem to happen on their own.

These pathways go directly to the glands, blood vessels and organs.

The Somatic Nervous System is responsible for all our voluntary responses.

Things that you actually have to think about doing.

Before you read on, take a look to the right.


Made you look.

And I made you use your Somatic Nervous System, tee-hee.

These pathways go directly to the skin, joints and muscles.

In regards to this post, we are going to take a closer look at the Autonomic Nervous System, the cooler, temperamental and popular older sister of the branches.

And yes, to help you better understand this, here’s another useful flow chart for you:

(I’m really digging the flow charts if you haven’t noticed.)
Chart of the autonomic nervous system by Sirena Bernal

As you can see, the Autonomic Nervous System is divided into into 2 distinct branches: The Sympathetic and Parasympthatetic Nervous System.

These two systems work together like yin and yan, positive and negative, light and dark, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

Both are always there, but one is usually more dominant at certain times.

To make it really simple for you, all you really need to know is this: The red part breaks down the body while the blue parts build the body.

What I’m getting at with this chart is that we are constantly activating our Sympathetic (fight of flight) Nervous System on a daily basis.

And this creates imbalance in the body.

When the red section is always on, the blue section can’t do it’s job.

And it’s the blue section (the parasympathetic nervous system) that’s responsible for keeping us young and looking good.

Another key point to remember is that, regardless of the stressor, our body responds to stress in the same way.

Whether it’s a traffic jam or being chased by Zombies we are activating the red parts or the “fight or flight” response.

Why is this important?

Well, biologically our body was only designed to be in this response for a few minutes, seconds even. However, because of the way we live in our modern world, we are constantly in this state, much longer than nature intended.

And the consequences of this leads to crap we don’t want, like:

  • Losing muscle mass
  • Storing fat (specifically around our mid-section)
  • Increase in blood sugar
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Low sex drive (that sucks)
  • Poor digestion
  • Always getting sick
  • Lack of response to exercise (also known as “hitting a plateau”)

Here’s yet another chart summing all of that up:

Chart of stress reaction by Sirena Bernal
Chart of stress reaction by Sirena Bernal

If we are constantly in a “fight or flight” response, our Parasympathetic Nervous System can’t heal and repair our body effectively.

The key is to find a balance between the two.

We don’t want to completely shut off the red parts as this is necessary to survival, but we do want to find balance as the 2 systems work synergistically.

In the third and final post of the stress series, I’ll share with you some ideas and tips for managing your stress and ways you can find balance between the blue and the red.

In the meantime, let me know what you think.

What are your “red” stressors in your life at the moment?

Talk soon!


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