What Does Stress Do To The Body?
Stress is defined as “the psychological perception of pressure.” Stress is an assault on the mental, emotional, and physical state of each human being. Unfortunately, many people are plagued with chronic stress due to life’s various demands. Despite the general knowledge that the effects of stress are so dangerous, the psychological perception of pressure remains a genuine issue in so many lives. But what is stress?
In recent years, mainstream society has begun to discuss how stress affects mental and emotional health. While these impacts are important, we cannot forget that stress also affects physical health, as well as our ability to practice vulnerability. Understanding what stress does to the body matters; physical health can impact human beings just as much its mental and emotional counterparts.
A Brief Review of Chronic Stress
The American Psychological Association explains that extended, ongoing stress turns into chronic stress when left unchecked. Chronic stress not only complicates the process of a healthy stress response, but this type of stress also impacts your ability to function in everyday life. If you’re already dealing with specific issues in life, chronic stress can worsen these issues and create new ones of their own.
Because of the way that chronic stress affects you across the board, it’s pretty safe to say that you don’t want it. However, chronic stress doesn’t materialize overnight. As a matter of fact, some form of stress is typically ongoing for a while before it becomes chronic. It goes without saying that the longer that stress lasts, the more dangerous it becomes, and the higher your likelihood of experiencing chronic stress is.
Six Things that Stress Does to the Body
The effects of stress on the body are uniquely harmful and debilitating. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, your immune, digestive, respiratory systems can take severe hits from stress; other parts of your body are also vulnerable to the negative impacts of tension. Knowing what stress does to the body is not meant to frighten you, but rather to keep you in the loop. Awareness can play a critical role in the process of prevention.
Weakens the Immune System
Your immune system is vital to the health and wellness of your body. Unfortunately, one of the most damaging ways that stress takes its toll is by weakening your immune system. The toll of long-term, ongoing stress causes your immune system’s defenses to regress. Without a strong immune system, your physical body becomes more vulnerable to viruses, infections, and diseases. Needless to say, sicknesses of this nature can take a toll; if you are someone with already-existing health issues, the last thing you’ll want to be forced to deal with is a compromised immune system.
Increases Risk of Heart Attack
A higher likelihood of suffering from a heart attack is another unpleasant impact that stress has on the body. Overextended periods, the effects of stress cause a heightened heart rate along with high blood pressure damage to your arteries.
These factors combined increase your likelihood of suffering from a heart attack. As you may already know, heart attacks can be fatal and have claimed many lives. If you can at all avoid a heightened likelihood of experiencing a heart attack, you should.
Increases Vulnerability to Stomach Issues
A weaker immune system and increased likelihood of experiencing heart attack barely scratch the surface of what stress does to the body. Another unhealthy bodily stress response is greater vulnerability to stomach issues.
Because stress adversely impacts the body’s digestive system, the functions of your stomach take a hit. Nausea, stomach aches, and other similar problems are more likely to occur when you suffer from stress and especially frequent stress.
Spikes Your Blood Sugar
Another unpleasant way that stress affects the body is by causing the liver to release additional glucose into your body’s bloodstream. If this pattern persists for extended periods, your risk of type 2 diabetes increases exponentially.
A health problem of this nature comes along with symptoms of poor wound healing, fatigue, extreme thirst or hunger, and more. It goes without saying that the release of extra sugar in your bloodstream is something you’ll want to avoid.
Shortens Your Breathing
The ability to breathe clearly and regularly is an imperative bodily function. Unfortunately, yet another adverse stress response on the body is shortness of breath. During episodes of stress, the muscles in your body that allow you to breathe become tense and tight. This, in turn, interferes with the breathing process, hence leaving you with a shortness of breath.
On its own, shortness of breath is troublesome enough; however, if you suffer from additional health issues already, struggling to breathe clearly can be especially problematic, if not fatal.
In many cases, ongoing or intense episodes of stress are needed before your body struggles to breathe; however, each case is unique. Stress may have more severe impacts on your body than that of someone else’s or vice versa. Either way, your body will be even better off when it doesn’t have to contend with stress.
Creates Tension in Muscles
Muscle tension joins the list of yet another negative stress response on the human body. When your body undergoes stress, your muscles tense up; when stress on the body becomes chronic stress, the muscles suffer even worse impacts. Due to nature and longevity associated with chronic stress, headaches, and even backaches caused by muscle tension become possible.
Three Healthy Ways to Deal with Stress
It goes without saying that stress has incredibly harmful and traumatic impacts on the body. For these reasons, developing healthy ways to deal with stress is profoundly imperative. The right and proper stress response can make a significant difference and save your body from undergoing unnecessary harm.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Most people experience some level of stress from time to time. However, proper actions and behaviors can significantly decrease, eliminate, or even prevent the presence of stress. By far, living a healthy lifestyle can be the best and greatest stress response. Little things make big differences, and consistently taking good care of yourself can pay dividends.
Getting a good night’s rest consistently is one important way to live a healthy lifestyle. Consuming a nutritious, well-balanced diet, taking breaks when necessary, and getting in exercise are additional ways to live healthily.
Eliminate Sources of Stress
Sometimes, the best stress response is to eliminate sources of stress altogether. If you find that your levels of stress spike when you are around certain people or environments, this speaks volumes. You may want to reconsider whether or not being around people or places that cause stress is worth it. If it is at all possible, removing yourself from any causes of stress is advisable. Your body, along with your mental and emotional health, will thank you.
Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
For better or for worse, each human being develops their own stress response. Sometimes, the chosen response to stress is healthy, but in other cases, it can be destructive. Examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms include abuse of drugs, excessive drinking, etc. Believe it, or another, unhealthy stress response or toxic coping mechanisms can actually worsen existing problems or issues.
Falling into unhealthy coping mechanisms can be easy, but what’s easy is not always best. In both the short-term and the long-term, you can benefit from a positive and constructive stress response. If you are dealing with both stress and unhealthy coping mechanisms, seeking professional help may prove to be of value to you.
How to Find Professional Help
There is never any shame in seeking out professional help when you believe it can benefit you. Whether you are looking for stress management techniques or dealing with something else entirely different, professional help can change your life.
Working with an online therapist can provide assistance with stress management; furthermore, you can begin to tackle challenging issues, learn more about who you are, and learn positive behaviors for your situation.
When you begin sessions with a BetterHelp online therapist, we can commit to having your best interests at heart. This means hearing you out, asking questions, and providing valuable feedback. Being receptive to the thoughts and responses from your online therapist plays a critical role in getting the most out of the process; likewise, you should also make sure to communicate any thoughts, concerns, and relevant information with your online therapist.
Online therapy can be effective and life-changing; although, it is not a quick fix. Working with an online therapist is a process; it requires work, dedication, and a willingness to make specific changes. No matter what, it’s important to remember that stress management, healthy coping mechanisms, and otherwise rising above hardships are each possible.
Only you can determine whether online therapy is a good fit for you. Should you decide that you would like to work with an online therapist, BetterHelp will be here to help support and guide you.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
What are 5 effects of stress on our bodies?
The effects of stress can have a major impact on the human body and health. Here are five ways that stress symptoms or effects of stress may impact a person's health and well-being:
- Reproductive health effects. Stress can impact the reproductive systems of individuals. According to the APA website, high levels of stress can be associated with irregular or absent menstrual cycles, changes in the length of cycles, and more painful menstrual periods.
- Heart health effects. Stress is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and having a heart attack.
- Mental health effects. Stress can affect mental health in a number of ways, leading to an increased risk of depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms, irritability, social isolation, and trouble focusing.
- Body pain. Stress is associated with body aches and muscle tension.
- Gastrointestinal health effects. Digestive problems and stress go hand-in-hand. Stress can lead to nausea, upset stomach, stomach pain, and the worsening of symptoms in those who live with irritable bowel syndrome and various other G.I. health concerns.
Poor judgment, unexplained chest pain, and changes in sleep or trouble sleeping are also possible effects of stress. If you notice these stress symptoms and effects, make sure to consult with your doctor or another healthcare professional. Some of these physical changes can be serious and may have other causes. For example, chest pain can be a symptom of various different health problems. Furthermore, managing and reducing stress is vital if you experience ongoing stress symptoms and stress effects, stressful life events, or stress overload. With health risks such as an increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, or a heart attack, it's crucial to take care of your health. Those facing long term stress may need to look at the root cause and if there's something within their control that they can change. Some may choose to change something about their job or work schedule (e.g., setting an away e mail when you are off work to better manage time and reduce the urge to open your e mail outside of work, reducing or changing work hours, etc.), attend therapy, or implement new self-care routines. There are various relaxation techniques and activities that can help people care for their health and manage stress. For example, tai chi, yoga, deep breathing exercises, physical activity, and time with other people. Research shows that social support can aid people in building resilience to and managing stress or coping with stress. Many relaxation and stress management techniques and tools a person might use to lower stress symptoms can also have a connection to a decreased risk of heart attack and heart disease, though there are a number of different factors that can increase the risk of heart disease or a heart attack that exist outside of stress.
What happens to your body when you have too much stress?
Stress can affect health in many ways, including mental health and physical health. There is a natural stress response that occurs when individuals experience threatening or stressful situations. However, this survival mechanism impairs health when it is ongoing, and serious physical health and mental health effects can take place when someone experiences too much stress on a persistent basis. Even if you feel threatened (or if your body feels threatened) for a reason that you know does not put you in immediate danger logically, the nervous system can still react, and stress symptoms can still occur.
What are some examples of these stress symptoms? Stress symptoms or health effects can include physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, behavioral symptoms, and cognitive symptoms. Physical symptoms associated with stress can include high blood pressure, muscle tension, body aches or pain, headaches, and digestive problems. Emotional symptoms, behavioral symptoms, and cognitive symptoms associated with stress can include feelings of overwhelm, feelings of depression, a shorter temper, poor judgment, worsened memory, and feelings of anxiety. Stress can even lead to lower sexual desire, changes in reaction time, an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack, insomnia, and a range of other negative effects and health problems. Many of these health problems and stress symptoms or effects can be serious, impacting social relationships, work, and long-term well being.
A randomized control trial on mindfulness meditation, for example, showed that it can help reduce a person's perception of stress and increase well being.
What are 5 emotional signs of stress?
Many find that stress affects work performance, social relationships, self-esteem, and other parts of life. Stress symptoms can impact both the mind and body, and stress can cause or contribute to a wide range of health problems. Five emotional stress symptoms or signs of stress to look out for include:
- Increased irritability or a shorter temper.
- Feelings of depression.
- Feelings of anxiety.
- Feeling unmotivated.
- Social withdrawal or isolation.
Those with existing mental health problems or mental health conditions (such as depression or anxiety) may notice that their symptoms worsen when they experience stressful life situations. Therapy can help with managing stress or stress management as well as mental health conditions and concerns like anxiety disorders and depression. If you need help managing stress, the ways that stress can affect relationships and quality of life, depression, anxiety, or something else, don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional such as a therapist, whether that is online or in person. Online mental health therapy is proven by research to help people with a number of different life and health concerns. These include but aren't limited to mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders and OCD, relationships, and life stress.
Can stress make you physically sick?
Stress affects the entire body, and it can make a person feel sick in more ways than one. When people experience stress, their body goes into what's called the fight or flight response. When the body is in that stress response, the body responds as though there's an immediate threat; muscles tighten, blood pressure increases, stress hormones spike, and one's pulse becomes faster. You may notice both physical symptoms and mental health symptoms of stress or stress effects. These can include but aren't limited to sleep problems, digestive problems, unexplained chest pain, reduced sexual desire, poor judgment fatigue, feelings of anxiety, symptoms of depression, muscle tension or body pain and other changes to mental health or body function. It's important to listen to your body and find ways to handle stress. Talk with a healthcare provider if you notice any symptoms (e.g., chest pain, persistent feelings of depression or anxiety) that could indicate a serious health problem or may otherwise be a cause for concern.
How do I get rid of stress?
If you notice persistent stress and stress symptoms, whether those are mental and emotional stress symptoms or physical stress symptoms, you may wonder what to do to better manage stress. Ways to manage stress include:
- Scrolling back on responsibilities, if possible.
- Taking a break from stressful situations.
- Using relaxation techniques to manage stress, such as deep breathing and meditation.
- Working with a mental health professional, such as a therapist, to find long-term solutions and ways to manage stress more effectively.
- Getting social support from others.
- Physical activity and enjoyable hobbies.
How can I reduce stress quickly?
It can be highly beneficial to have coping skills to turn to in high-stress situations. Some things that may help relieve stress symptoms can include breathing exercises, meditation, and time outdoors. When the nervous system responds to stress, breath quickens, blood pressure rises, and individuals go into what's called a fight or flight response. Tools for managing stress can include but aren't limited to deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, social support, taking a mindful break from thoughts about stressful life events, physical activity, and more. All of these may be stress management tools to use quickly, and you can keep them in mind to help yourself handle stress when it arises. If you notice that your stress or stress symptoms continue on an ongoing basis, it may be beneficial to speak with a therapist and, if applicable, make changes to your life that will help you handle stress. Stress overload can have serious health consequences, inclusive of both those that relate to mental health and physical health. It's crucial to take care of your well being, and knowing that someone is on your side, as well as having a professional who can help you find solutions and realistic stress management techniques, can be highly beneficial. Don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional in your local area or sign up for an online therapy company like BetterHelp that can help match you with a mental health professional.
How do I know my stress level?
Keeping an eye out for stress symptoms can help you determine your stress level. Worry, rumination, trouble sleeping, increased irritability, feelings of depression, headaches, jaw tension, and pain can all be stress symptoms and signs to look out for. If there is a particular scenario or stressful situation on your mind, a therapist may be able to help you address, navigate, or cope with it. Ongoing stress can lead to a wide range of health problems. Health problems associated with ongoing or persistent stress can include but aren't limited to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Some people who work in specific fields, such as human services, are at a high risk of burnout and stress. In fact, many studies have been conducted over time on the health effects that people in healthcare and human services face and the effects of stress that these individuals experience. If you work in human services or another high-stress field, stress management and self-care are vital. Don't be afraid to ask for help, and know that you don't need to handle stress alone.
What are the symptoms of chronic stress?
While stress is natural and not harmful in small doses, chronic stress affects mental and physical health, including in ways that can be serious. Chronic stress symptoms, symptoms of chronic stress, or chronic stress effects may include but aren't necessarily limited to:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems
- Muscle tension or body aches
- Increased heart attack risk
- Depression symptoms
- Anxiety symptoms
Stress can even impact people's reproductive systems and menstruation—some notice unexplained chest pain, digestive problems, and other effects that stress can cause, too. If stress affects your close relationships, mental health, physical health, sleep patterns, or other parts of life, it's likely time to make a change. Connecting with others, such as co workers, friends, or other supportive people in your life, engaging in relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises to help soothe your nervous system, and focusing on elements of self-care like getting enough sleep, can all be helpful for managing stress or stress management. If you have difficulty managing stress, a medical or mental health care provider such as a therapist may be an incredibly beneficial addition to your support team.
Does crying relieve stress?
Crying can help relieve stress. Although excessive crying could be indicative of health problems (e.g., mental health conditions), research shows that it can help individuals experience relief from both emotional pain and physical pain. Crying is not a bad thing, and it is healthy to cry. If you experience stress symptoms on an ongoing basis or endure persistent high stress levels, make sure to reach out to a medical or mental health professional or healthcare provider who can help. A mental health professional, such as a therapist, can help individuals with stress management or managing stress. A mental health professional such as a therapist will consider your unique needs when helping you find ways to manage stress, navigate stressful situations, and care for your individual mental health.
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