The Effects of Stress on the Body
Everyone has stress. Stress is a natural, physical and mental reaction to both good and bad experiences that can be beneficial to your health and safety.
It can be triggered by everyday pressures at work and at home. Negative events like divorce or the death of a loved one can cause stress, so can physical illness. Traumatic stress brought on by war, disaster, or a violent attack can keep your body’s stress levels elevated far longer.
Chronic stress can cause different symptoms that affect your overall health and well-being.
Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems
Your central nervous system (CNS) oversees your “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The CNS tells the rest of your body what to do. In the brain, the hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol.
When perceived fear is gone, the CNS should tell all the body’s systems to go back to normal. If the CNS fails to return to normal or if the stressor doesn’t go away, it takes a toll on your body.
Symptoms of chronic stress include irritability, anxiety, and depression. You may suffer from headaches or insomnia. Chronis stress alters eating habits as well with under eating, overeating, substance abuse, or social withdrawal.
Under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar to give you a boost of energy. Unused blood sugar is re-absorbed. If you’re under chronic stress, your body can’t keep up with the extra sugar surge, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
You’re more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux due to stress, along with experience nausea, vomiting or stomach aches.
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems
During the stress response, you breathe faster to distribute oxygen and blood quickly throughout your body.
Your heart also pumps faster and raises your blood pressure.
Frequent or chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long, raising the risk of hypertension and problems with your blood vessels and heart.
Under stress, your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury and loosen when relaxed. If you’re always under stress, that doesn’t happen though.
Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain and body aches. Overtime, you might stop working out and turn to substances or other unhealthy habits to deal with the pain.
Sexuality and Reproductive System
It’s not unusual to lose your desire for sex when you’re dealing with chronic stress. Stress also alters the menstrual cycle by causing irregular or no menstruation, or heavier and more painful periods.
Short term stress stimulates the immune system, which helps you fight off infection and heal. However, over time, cortisol compromises your immune system. Under chronic stress, people are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flue and cold. It increases the risk of diseases and infections.
Take time to practice healthy, relaxing, self-care activities to curb your risk of chronic illness.
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