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Emotional Wellness

Effects of Stress on the Body and Your Health

Stress is a natural reaction to everyday situations. However, if you usually take stress lightly, it’s time you learn about the effects of stress on the body. Exposure to long periods of stress can cause damage to every single system of your body. Be it the nervous, musculoskeletal, reproductive, gastrointestinal, immune, or respiratory system, nothing can escape its clutches. The triggers can be big or small, such as the loss of a loved one, war, being late for work, or approaching deadlines. These triggers alert your brain to release stress hormones to help you survive in emergency situations. But if your brain doesn’t stop releasing these chemicals for a long time, that can be disastrous.

How Stress Affects Your Body – Sharon Horesh Bergquist / TED-Ed

The Causes of Stress Response

Chronic stress is a result of prolonged stress response, which involves the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. When you’re stressed, the hypothalamus in your brain signals your adrenal glands to prepare for fight or flight situations by releasing stress hormones. These hormones pump up your heartbeat to increase blood circulation and help you deal with an emergency situation. But once the emergency dies down, your brain should stop these signals. In the case of chronic stress, this does not happen. The fight or flight state continues, which is why you need to learn how to destress.

A man in front of his laptop, looking stressed while holding his head. Seems like he's having headache as effect of stress in the body.
Chronic Stress Is A Result Of Prolonged Stress Response, (Image Source: Shutterstock)

If you’ve noticed the effects of stress on your body, here are some symptoms to help you decide for sure whether you have chronic stress or not:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Headaches
  • Increased irritability 
  • Digestive issues
  • Muscle tension 
  • Anxiety 
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections

The severity and intensity of these symptoms vary from person to person. It might be difficult to know for certain that chronic stress is causing these problems because these symptoms are very common with other diseases, as well. But there are a few ways you can find out if it’s stress. Note how often you feel irritated, or that you have no time to relax and enjoy the things you love, and that the smallest mistakes are a huge burden.

The causes of chronic stress can be all types of everyday issues. Work stress is triggered by being late to work, having too many assignments, pressure, job difficulties, and deadlines. If you recently lost somebody close or had a heated argument with your significant other, you might have relationship stress. Frustration, sadness, depression, anger—all of these emotions can also create stress. Once you recognize your triggers, you can begin to learn how to manage stress.

Why You Need to Learn Stress Management

The acne that popped out of nowhere could possibly be due to chronic stress, so it’s crucial to learn stress management. Some other negative effects of stress on the body are:

Weakened Immunity

By keeping your immune system on alert for a longer period of time, stress can weaken it due to overwork. So you’ll be more susceptible to diseases, flu, common cold, and other infections. If you’re sick most of the time, stress might be the cause.

Muscle Tension

In fight or flight mode, your muscles tense up to prepare for attacks. Chronic stress does not allow your muscles to relax, and these tight muscles can cause a lot of pain in your back, shoulder, head, and entire body. You’ll miss out on exercises. For coronavirus survivors, muscle strength is crucial for their well-being. If you or anyone you know has chronic stress, help them learn how to destress.

Digestive Issues

A young woman suffering from stomachache on sofa at home.
Heartburn, Nausea, Constipation Or Diarrhea, And Stomach Aches are Some Common Gastrointestinal Problems. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Heartburn, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, and stomach aches are some common gastrointestinal problems caused by prolonged stress. Your body keeps your blood sugar level high to provide you energy to deal with emergencies. But if this level does not go down, it can lead to diabetes.

Reproductive Problems

With time, chronic stress can cause infections in both male and female reproductive organs. This can lead to erectile dysfunction and increased menstrual problems such as irregular or extra painful periods.

Respiratory Damage

Stress makes you breathe faster in order to distribute more oxygenated blood quickly in your body and match with the fast heartbeat. If you have asthma, this can be highly problematic. Plus, elevated blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease.

Sleeplessness

Your mind remains on high alert the entire time you are stressed, so you’ll find it difficult to relax. This can prevent you from falling asleep or make it difficult to stay asleep.

Here is an eight-minute YouTube video with ways you can cope with stress.

7 Stress Management Techniques To Get You Back On Track – Lifehack

Effects of Stress on the Body: How to Destress

Now that you know the causes and effects of stress, it’s time to learn how to destress. You can use different products or try some breathing exercises to reduce your cortisol levels.

Exercise

The best remedy for stress is exercise. It helps you focus on the workout and shuts away lingering thoughts. Exercise also reduces anxiety, improves your mood, and gives you a much-needed boost of confidence. There’s something very satisfying about sweating it out.

Diet

Reducing your caffeine intake can make stress management a lot easier. Caffeine only makes the effects of stress on the body worse by further stimulating your mind. But it depends on how much caffeine you consume and how it affects you. If it makes you jittery, skip the coffee and try some green tea, instead. One way to counter the surge of anxiety induced by caffeine and stress is by going out in the sun and doing some breathing exercises. Sunlight and nature are amazing healers. Breathing in some fresh air in the sunshine can calm your body and rewire your brain.

Journaling

Journalling is also stress-relieving. Writing it all down will make you feel lighter. Moreover, by focusing on all the things you are grateful for, your mind becomes free of stress and learns to stay positive. But if you don’t like journaling, that’s alright. Spend some time with your friends and family instead. Oxytocin is a stress-relieving hormone that is released when you are in the company of the people you love. It’s the perfect way to relax and feel appreciated.

Portrait of black woman with journaling.
Journalling Is Also Stress Relieving. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Disconnecting

Taking a break from your phone, laptop, and electronics in general can have a huge positive impact on your mental health. Social media hiatus is a popular stress management technique. Using your phone all day is equivalent to keeping stress with you at all times. Learn to distance yourself when needed from news and emails.

Conclusion

Stress can turn you from a gym junkie to a fatigued bed-ridden patient. The stress hormone, cortisol, keeps your body in the fight or flight condition for longer than normal. This can tire out your organs and lead to several problems such as sleeplessness, weakened immunity, and body aches. If you are often sick or irritated, chances are you are suffering from chronic stress. Surround yourself with natural light and plants, exercise, and reduce your caffeine intake to lower your cortisol levels. The effects of stress on the body can be debilitating, so learn ways to manage your stress levels to optimize your health.

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