What Stress Does to the Body

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What Stress Does to the Body

Stress impacts every area of our life, such as feelings, behaviors, and thinking/ Photo By Dmitriy Shironosov via 123RF


We face stress every day. It seems that it is a part of our daily grind. Stress is one way that our body uses to prepare for and cope with an alarming situation. Stress is normal and inevitable. It is essential in helping you adapt to certain situations and protect yourself.

The thing with stress is that it can be managed. Since there is no way around it, you have to deal with it. The problem now lies whether you let stress affect you or you rise above it. Stress impacts every area of our life, such as feelings, behaviors, and thinking. There are also physical effects of stress.


What is the body's natural response to stress?

When you are faced with a stressful situation, the hypothalamus, which is found at the base of the brain, sets off an alarm in the body.  Through the various nerves and hormonal signals, the system triggers the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is responsible for increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, and energy. Cortisol is the main stress hormone that increases the sugar level in the bloodstream and the brain's use of glucose. Cortisol is also responsible for restraining what is not needed during a fight-or-flight situation. It changes the functions of the immune, digestive, reproductive, and brain functions that deal with fear and moods.

Normally, after a stressful situation, the hormone levels return to normal. When the adrenaline and cortisol levels return to normal, all the other reactions go back to default and all systems work as usual.

When there is chronic stress, the body continues to produce cortisol even when there is no fight-or-flight situation. When cortisol builds up, it can harm the body, as it can result in health problems, such as depression, anxiety, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, memory problem, and the likes. It is for this reason that it is important to learn how to cope with stress in a healthy manner. 


Effects of Stress on the Entire Body

Long term stress can be dangerous and can cause several health issues to the entire body.

Central Nervous System and Endocrine System

The CNS is the one responsible for a fight-or-flight response. The hypothalamus jumpstarts things and tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones. These hormones increase your heart rate and send blood flowing to the parts of the body where it is most needed.

When the threat is gone, the hypothalamus directs everything to go back to normal programming. In the event that the CNS does not go back to normal or if the stressor does not go away, the response will continue.

Cardiovascular System and Respiratory System

Stress can affect the heart and lungs. In times of stress, the heart beats faster and you also breathe faster. This is to quickly distribute oxygen to the entire body. For those who have existing conditions, it might be harder to breathe. Stress raises one's blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels. This can make a person more prone to cardiovascular issues, such as heart attacks and hypertension.

Gastrointestinal System

The liver produces more glucose in times of stress to give you more energy. If you are experiencing chronic stress, the body may not be able to keep up with the sudden increase in glucose, therefore increasing the risk of having type 2 diabetes. Stress responses, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and the rush of hormones can cause an upset stomach, heartburn, gastritis, and acid reflux to name a few. Existing ulcers may also act up.

Muscular System

Muscles tend to become tense whenever you are stressed and then release once you relax. But if you are always under stress, the muscles might not get to relax anymore. Tight muscles can cause headaches, back pains, shoulder pains, and various body aches. This can make you turn to pain medications.

When there is chronic stress, the body continues to produce cortisol even when there is no fight-or-flight situation/ Photo By Erik Reis via 123RF


Reproductive System

Stress can be tiring for the body and mind. It can make you lose your desire when exposed to constant stress. Short-term stress makes men produce more testosterone but this does not last a long time.

Exposure to stress for an extended period of time can make male hormones go down and can interfere with sperm count and cause ED or impotence. Women who are constantly under stress may have problems with their menstrual cycle.  Periods may become irregular or heavier or sometimes, more painful.

Immune System

Stress can stimulate the immune system but too much stress hormones can weaken the immune system of an individual, making them more susceptible to various diseases. Stress can also increase recovery time from an injury.


Managing Stress

Since stress in life cannot be avoided, it is important to be able to control stress and manage it. There are some relaxation methods, such as practicing yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and listening to relaxing music. Some take up hobbies or have a pet to help manage stress.

If you feel that things are getting out of hand, do not hesitate to call someone for help.