What effects does stress have on your body?

We’ve all obviously been late for meetings at work and in most situations, we panic and stress. When this happens, our body reacts in several ways.

As you’re sitting in traffic, it’s almost time for your meeting at work. You look at your watch and you begin to panic as you see the minutes tick away quickly. As this happens, your body reacts immediately. Your heart begins to race, your breath becomes deeper and faster, you begin to perspire and your muscles tense up. Stress hormones are secreted which made to trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response. The way your body reacts helps prepares your body for the stressful situation.

Everybody undergoes some amount of stress in their lives, it is a natural reaction to life’s experiences. Whether it is looking after everyday responsibilities, work, family or relationships - anything can trigger stress. However, if this continues to occur on a regular basis, and the stress prolongs and remains elevated for a long period of time, it takes a toll on your psychological and physical health.

Let us delve into how stress can have an impact on our body.

Stress and the Nervous System

The nervous system consists of several divisions — there’s the central nervous system which includes the spinal cord and brain, as well as the peripheral division which has the autonomic (ANS) and somatic nervous systems. The autonomic system is further divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The SNS creates the “fight or flight” response during a stressful situation, which braces the body to fight off a threat or danger. Essentially, the SNS signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase heart rate, raise blood pressure, dilate the pupils, increase perspiration, increase blood flow, breathing becomes deeper and faster. Chronic stress can result in a long-term drain but may not cause permanent damage to the nervous system, but because of it, the nervous system can cause damage to the rest of the body.

Stress and the Digestive System

Yes, stress does affect the digestive system as well. You might experience the butterfly sensation in your stomach, nausea or even get a stomach ache because of muscle tension. The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can also upset your digestive system. You’re most likely to experience heartburn or acid reflux, even ulcers in the stomach. Stress doesn’t cause ulcers, but it can increase your risk for them and can aggravate existing ulcers. Because stress can also affect the way food moves through your body, leading to diarrhea or constipation.

In a stressful situation, your liver produces extra glucose to give you a boost of energy. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with this surge of extra glucose. If this persists, in the long run can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Stress and the Respiratory & Cardiovascular Systems

Once you’re in a stressful situation, your breath becomes deeper and faster in order to distribute the oxygen evenly to all parts of your body. Those with asthma, emphysema or any other lung condition may struggle with getting the oxygen needed to breathe.

Under stress, your heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to your muscles so you’ll have more strength to take action. But this also raises your blood pressure. As a result, frequent or chronic stress will make your heart work too hard for too long. When your blood pressure rises, so do your risks for having a stroke or heart attack.

Stress and the Muscular System

Your muscles tense up to protect themselves when you’re stressed - it is the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches. Sudden stress triggers the muscles to tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes.

However, chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are tense for long periods of time, this may trigger stress-related disorders such as tension headaches and migraines as well as trigger other reactions of the body.

Stress and the Immune System

Stress activates and stimulates the immune system, which is beneficial in several situations as it helps in avoiding infections and contributes to healing of wounds.

But if this continues to occur over a long period of time, this will reduce the body’s response to toxic outer bodies which makes them more susceptible to viral infections like the flu, common cold and other multiple illnesses. Furthermore, stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury.

Stress and the Reproductive System

Stress, acute or chronic, can wreak havoc on sexual function. Reduced sexual desire and erectile dysfunction in men are examples of how stress affects the body.

Studies show that women experiencing higher levels of stress also experience more intense PMS symptoms and pains.

Chronic stress can affect fertility. Stress hormones have an impact on the hypothalamus, which produces the reproductive hormones. Stress may change a woman’s menstrual cycle, bringing it sooner or delaying ovulation and pushing the cycle back. With men, stress can lower the quality and number of sperm produced.

Estrogen drops during perimenopause and menopause. Stress during this time of life combined with the drop in hormone may be linked to the mood changes.