Blog: My Take
Never Let Them See You Sweat: New Book Coming Soon!
April 20, 2022 -- I’m excited to announce my new book “Never Let Them See You Sweat” is in the final stages of development. Stay tuned to pre-order and learn 30 ways that science says you can harness stress for success! If you haven't already, click Subscribe below so you know when it's available!
What Stress Looks Like Physiologically
March 20, 2020 -- To understand what stress looks like in the brain and body, we have to open the hood and see what happens in our brains and bodies when we experience a stressful event.  It begins in an area in the brain called the amygdala. This is the area that regulates and processes our emotions and responses to fearful, threatening stimuli and works to help us detect real threats and activate the appropriate fearful responses to dangers (See Baxter).

This then send signals to the hypothalamus to stimulate the ANS specifically the sympathetic nervous system causing your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones in turn prepare your body for the fight or flight response, with the following physiologic changes:

  • Our breathing speeds up and small airways dilate to get more oxygen into our system.
  • Our heart starts beating faster to pump blood and oxygen to our muscles in preparation for fight or flight.
  • Our senses get heightened, our hearing sharpens, like the way animals’ ears perk up when the sense danger and our pupils dilate letting more light in and increasing our peripheral vision to look for escape routes if fleeing.
  • And blood gets diverted from our internal organs like our digestive system and sent to our muscles in preparation to run or fight .
  • This response can even dampness our pain perception in anticipation for our need to fight.

This response is meant to last only 30 minutes or so, while that imminent threat is still present (See McCarty).

However, chronic stress causes these hormones to remain active and circulating for sustained periods of time, the effects on the brain and body can lead to a number of physical, psychological, cognitive and behavioral problems. We need to  learn to manage our stress or it will detrimentally affect our health and well-being, because over times it takes a toll on our physical and mental health (See McEwen).

For example, studies have found people harboring anger and negative emotions are 3X more likely to develop premature heart disease and have a 5X greater chance of having a heart attack (See Vlachakis).

Research also suggests chronic stress can also affect our immune system, whether it is susceptibility to developing infections, autoimmune diseases or even an increased cancer risk (See Morey).

This immune dysfunction can also lead to chronic inflammation, which is believed to cause  dysfunction and injury to the lining of our blood vessels with growth of plaque buildup triggering clots along with constriction of these blood vessels can also increase our risk for heart attack or stroke (See Editorial at AHA).

Aside from cardiovascular diseases, chronic inflammation is also associated with a whole host of other diseases such as cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.

Over time, chronic stress from the competing demands of our work, finances and home life not only can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure, but neuroscientists have found that the brain structure is altered by chronic exposure to cortisol. That is why stress is a major contributing factor to anxiety, depression even addiction.

People dealing with chronic stress see it manifest in a variety of physical signs and ailments including headache, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, muscle aches and backache, clenched jaw with teeth grinding, indigestion, abdominal pain and bloating, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain or loss, and skin problems, problems concentrating and with memory as well as loss of libido,  just to name a few. 

Baxter M., Croxson P., Facing the role of the amygdala in emotional information processing, PNAS, December 2012.

McCarty R, Chapter 4 - The Fight-or-Flight Response: A Cornerstone of Stress Research, Academic Press, 2016,

McEwen BS. Neurobiological and Systemic Effects of Chronic Stress. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks). 2017;1:2470547017692328. doi:10.1177/2470547017692328

Vlachakis C, Dragoumani K, Raftopoulou S, et al. Human Emotions on the Onset of Cardiovascular and Small Vessel Related Diseases. In Vivo. 2018;32(4):859-870. doi:10.21873/invivo.11320

Morey JN, Boggero IA, Scott AB, Segerstrom SC. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015;5:13-17. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007

Editorial staff at American Heart Association, Inflammation and Heart Disease,, July 31, 2015.
ABOUT ME        DEMO REEL     NEWS           CONTACT
© Dr. Leigh Vinocur, 2022.