Physical impact of stress on the body

Written By Janine

Writing and talking about the methods that worked wonders for me!

Stress is widely known as the health epidemic of the 21st century, according to the World Health Organization. And it’s easy to see why. Over the years, stress has continually made the lives of people all over the world very difficult. There are many different things that cause stress, be it tight deadlines, not knowing how something important will turn out, relationship problems and so on. Which is why you want to understand how stress can affect your body, while also addressing this problem as quickly as possible.

Cardiovascular system

Your heart and blood vessels are the ones that provide oxygen and nourishment to the organs. However, acute stress will increase the heart rate, and stress hormones will make your heart work even harder, which can lead to cardiovascular problems. Add to that the fact that stress is also going to elevate the blood pressure. These things can lead to long term problems, especially if you’re dealing with continual stress. You can end up with things like a heart attack, stroke or hypertension.

Respiratory system

Stress can also have a negative impact on the respiratory system. This system is the one that supplies oxygen to the cells, while also removing any carbon dioxide from the body. Any strong emotions and stress can end up bringing respiratory issues, ranging from rapid breathing to shortness of breath. Acute, powerful stress can end up triggering an asthma attack, or the patient might even encounter a panic attack. What you can do is try out various breathing, relaxation and cognitive behavioral strategies. These can help ease the pressure and stress, while also keeping you happy. 

Reproductive system

Did you think that the reproductive system would not be affected by stress? Unfortunately, it is affected, and you can feel the long term damage caused by stress as well. One of the things that you will notice is that sexual desire is diminished quite a bit. That’s especially true in males, but also females as well. On top of that, chronic stress will end up having negative impact on sperm production for men. It can also make you prone to genital infections.

In the case of women, it will lower their sexual desire, but also make the premenstrual symptoms worse or very hard to deal with. The same thing can be said about the pregnancy period, since it can make it harder for a woman to conceive. Her pregnancy period will be a lot tougher, which obviously becomes an issue. If the woman is close to menopause, she will feel a sense of distress, mood swings and also anxiety, all due to stress.

Nervous system

The nervous system is the one that ends up being the most affected by stress. The reason is simple, the autonomic nervous system has a major role when it comes to responding to stress. When you are stressed out, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system reply to stress right away. The adrenal glands are releasing cortisol and adrenalin. They end up increasing the respiration rate, your heart beats faster, and even the digestive process starts bringing in glucose in the bloodstream. Simply put, the nervous system tries to solve the issue, while preparing the body for a huge stress emergency.

Needless to say, stress can take its toll on the nervous system in the long term. That’s especially true in the case of chronic stress. When the autonomic nervous system triggers physical reactions, your body will deal with wear and tear. Since the nervous system activates various bodily systems and puts them on alert, being stressed out often is not a good thing. It will damage your nervous system and your body, and in the end that can be a huge problem.

Photo by Matthew Henry

Gastrointestinal system

Another system that’s affected by stress is the gastrointestinal system. Our gut has hundreds of millions of neurons, and they all work almost independently to one another. The gut is in constant communication with the brain, and any stress can end up affecting our gut too. In this case, it influences bacteria which in turn will change our mood. Not only that, but organs within the gastrointestinal system end up exhausted. That includes the stomach, esophagus and bowels.

In many situations, stress can affect your digestion, and some nutrients might not be absorbed within the intestines, which can be a major issue. If you continue being stressed out, you will end up having health issues, and your diet will end up affected. It will have an impact on your health, not to mention your gastrointestinal system will struggle to function properly, which can be a major issue.

General physical symptoms of stress

Whenever you end up dealing with stress, you soon realize that your body is going through some changes. One of the main signs of stress for a lot of people is the fact that they have a really low energy level. On top of that, there are constant headaches and their stomach can be upset, leading to nausea, constipation and even diarrhea in some cases.

People that are stressed out and which have chronic stress in particular have a less efficient immune system and that makes them prone to infections and colds, but also other health issues. They also feel ringing in their ears, shaking and nervousness are common in their case too.

On top of that, stress will lead to muscle aches and pains, but also insomnia. Not a lot of people realize this, but when you are stressed out, it can be very difficult to go to sleep. It becomes a major issue and certainly something you want to stress as much as possible. It also affects your mental health too. That means you’re constantly worried, you take decisions in a rush, you can’t focus, and you end up less organized than ever before. All this struggle can take its toll on your body, and it can decimate a person if they don’t tackle the problem.

What can you do?

As you can see, the physical impact of stress on the body is major and it can end up being extremely problematic in the long term. Asking for support from a psychologist can be a great starting point. There are other things you may want to try out, like the ones listed below.

  • Change your diet to a healthier one, it will give you the nutrients and compounds your body needs while fighting stress
  • Exercise often, since it can help eliminate any stress and anxiety
  • Sleeping 7-9 hours every night and maintaining a good sleep schedule can also come in handy.
  • It’s important to find the right activities that help you relax and unwind all the time. 
  • Meditate every day, stretch and take deep breaths. These are all exercises that will help diminish the physical impact of stress.
  • Stay away from alcohol and drugs, they usually create other problems and generate stress too
  • Connect with others and socialize, it will help you de-stress. Of course, you want to stay away from stressors.

Since the physical impact of stress on the human body can be severe, it’s important to try and avoid stress as much as possible. If you already have a stressful job or life in general, we recommend following the ideas listed above. It will help immensely, and it will eliminate many of the potential concerns that might arise. Of course, there will be challenges when it comes to stepping away from stress. But if you do it right, the outcome can be well worth the effort!

Things you can try to reduce stress

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