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This topic is adapted from the TED-Ed YouTube channel.

Stress is something we all encounter. Maybe you feel it when you are cramming for a test or nearing a deadline at work? No matter what causes it, stress is more than just an emotion. It is a hardwired physical response that travels throughout your entire body. If stress is activated too often or for too long, it can wreak havoc on your body.

[Related: How to Process Your Emotions]

How Stress Affects Your Heart and Blood Stream

Your adrenal gland releases three key hormones: cortisol, epinephrine (or adrenaline), and norepinephrine. These hormones travel through your bloodstream and to your heart. This causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to rise. Over time this causes hypertension. Cortisol causes blood vessels not to work properly, eventually leading to atherosclerosis. Together, these things increase your chance of a heart attack or stroke.

How Stress Affects Your Digestive System

When your brain senses stress, it actives your autonomic nervous system. This series of neurons activates your intestinal nervous system. On top of giving you butterflies in your stomach, stress can disrupt your digestive process. This can cause IBS or a sensitive stomach. Stress can also change the composition and function of your stomach bacteria. This can affect your digestive and overall health. Thanks to cortisol, your body also begins to crave more food. Cortisol tells your body that it needs to replenish your supplies by eating food rich in carbs, sugars, and fats. This can cause you to gain weight. This can also cause your body to develop deep belly fat with releases a hormone called cytokine. This hormone can cause you to be more prone to chronic diseases.

How Stress Affects Your Immune System

Stress hormones initially help to fight off invaders and heal injuries. However, chronic stress can damage some immune cells. This makes you more likely to get infections and slow the rate at which you heal. Stress can also cause your bodies cells to stop reproducing, which can cause you to literally die sooner.

[Related: The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Stress]

The effects of stress seem pretty scary, and they are. Throughout your life, you will continue to encounter stress, but you have to learn how to cope with it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. What are some things that cause you stress? Do these things happen often or rarely?
  4. What side effects of stress do you notice most often in your own life?
  5. Do you think it’s important to know the effects stress can have on your body? Why or why not?
  6. What sort of things do you do to combat stress? Are these things effective?
  7. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.