How does stress affect the body?

We’ve all experienced stress at one point or another. It’s completely normal and a natural part of life. Yet when stress starts to affect your everyday routine, it can become a serious problem. 

Once stress sends your nervous system into overdrive, you’ll find yourself experiencing physical symptoms. These can be incredibly difficult to deal with, especially in the case of chronic stress. 

Here we’ve covered the different ways stress can affect your body, and what you can do to reduce it. Let’s start with the symptoms.

The signs of stress

Stress affects everyone differently. Whereas one person might bite their fingernails when nervous, someone else might find themselves being short and snappy with the people around them. 

Here are some signs that you might be experiencing stress:

  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach problems
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Having a faster heartbeat than normal
  • Being unable to concentrate
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • An inability to get to sleep or stay asleep

The causes of stress can be as diverse as the symptoms. Everything from a job interview to an upcoming exam can cause us to feel stressed.

What’s the point in stress?

Before we dive into the effects of stress, it’s important to understand its function. 

As unwanted as stress can be, it’s there for a reason. Stress is an automatic, protective response to situations that your mind interprets as being dangerous. It can be really useful in certain scenarios, such as running away from a threatening person or circumstance. 

Milder stress can also help you to stay motivated and meet goals. When you’re slightly worried about something, you’re more likely to push yourself to work harder and faster. This is a great tool to have, but only when used in moderation.

The stress response

Cortisol is what’s known as the “stress hormone”. It’s produced by the adrenal glands, and is there to help you out in dangerous or urgent situations. Once cortisol is released into your bloodstream, it sends signals to the rest of your body to create a stress response. 

There are several different types of stress, three of which include:

  1. Acute stress – short bursts of stress that happen when you’re in immediate danger. 
  1. Episodic acute stress – acute stress that happens on a regular basis. Stress can begin to accumulate and leave you with little time to decompress and recover. 
  1. Chronic stress – ongoing stress that results from long-term circumstances such as a difficult family situation or job worries. 

As part of a stress response, your body increases its amount of blood sugar, giving you a boost of energy so you can respond quickly and effectively. It’s a fantastic system to get you out of danger, but when it happens too often it can lead to a whole host of health problems.

Chronic stress & burnout

Short bursts of stress can be helpful, but long term stress can have negative effects on both your body and mind. 

If you spend long enough being stressed and not resting properly, your body will eventually force you to take time out. This is sometimes referred to as “burnout”, and is when you have no emotional or physical energy to continue with your day-to-day tasks. 

Luckily, there’s plenty you can do before reaching this stage. A good starting point is to learn how stress affects the different systems in your body. Recognising the symptoms will let you know when it’s time to make changes to your lifestyle.

Here are the different systems of your body and how they are affected by stress:

Muscular system

Tense muscles, aches, pains and headaches can all be caused by stress. Although your muscles contract to protect themselves from injury, this response isn’t good for your body in the long run.

Respiratory system

This system involves all the organs you need to be able to breathe, including your lungs and windpipe. When you’re feeling stressed, you might experience breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath and a tight chest.

Cardiovascular system

Stress can cause your heart to pump faster, leading to a higher heart rate. Your blood pressure might also increase to accommodate for the extra oxygen required by your muscles.

Gastrointestinal system

Digestive problems can present themselves as stomach aches, nausea, bloating and a decrease or increase in appetite. Extra glucose produced by a stress response could also lead to type 2 diabetes if not kept under control.

Integumentary system

Your skin, hair and nails are the main components of your integumentary system. Stress can exacerbate skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis and acne and lead to a weaker protective layer for your body.

The immune system

When you’re experiencing chronic stress, your body’s ability to fight off infections can begin to suffer. This might leave you more susceptible to colds and viruses.

Reproductive system

Ongoing stress may lead to a lowered libido. For women, it can also affect their periods, and for men, it can cause testosterone levels to drop.

How can you manage stress?

The symptoms of stress might sound scary, but don’t worry. Stress can be managed. It’s just about taking it seriously and incorporating stress management into your lifestyle. 

Here’s some ways to get started:

  • Let your stress out – it’s important not to bottle things up until you reach breaking point. Talking regularly to family and friends about what’s bothering you can help you to cope with difficult situations. 
  • Exercise regularly – this helps to fight stress and reduces the level of stress hormones in your body. Exercise also improves your mood, making you more able to deal with adversity. 
  • Therapy – this might sound like an expensive approach to deal with stress, but apps such as Ed can Help make therapy accessible and affordable. 

Whether it’s short term or chronic, Ed can Help you to overcome stress and regain control of your wellbeing. Just a 20 minute session on our app can help untangle troublesome thought patterns. Get started today.