The Impact Of Chronic Stress
Everyday stress can have a negative impact on multiple areas of your life. However, when the stressful situation passes, you may find that things return to normal even if you didnt do anything to address your stress. This isnt the healthiest way to get through stress, but it happens this way for some people.
However, if youre experiencing chronic stress, its not going to just go away. It may not be tied to a specific situation in your life. Instead, it might be the result of poor habits or not knowing how to deal with past trauma. It will not just go away if left untreated.
How Your Body Responds To Stress
When youre under stress, your brain releases a stress response. This sends signals via the pituitary gland to the adrenal glands, to release the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
These hormones raise your blood pressure and give your body a dose of glucose that goes straight to your muscles. The idea is to get you ready and give you a boost of energy to respond to an immediate stressor.
Stress hormones are energising. They give you the motivation and focus to complete difficult tasks, solve problems, and reach your immediate goals. Thats why stress is good for you in small doses.
After the stressful situation has passed, your body can return to a normal, relaxed state. But ongoing, long-term stress the kind that cant easily be solved with a short burst of energy and focus can cause serious physical signs of stress.
Improving Your Ability To Handle Stress
Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully .
Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when youre feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and dont let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you dont have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.
Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your sensessight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.
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Put Your Health First
One of the reasons many of us feel overwhelmed by stress is because we tend to neglect our personal health. Its easy to start placing a higher priority on other aspects of life like work, family or community involvement. But the old cliché is true you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help anyone else.
Putting your health first means that nothing comes before the basics like proper diet, regular exercise and enough sleep. These are the non-negotiable fundamentals of longevity and well-being, and making these items your priority will truly pay off.
Staying Healthy Despite A High Level Of Stress
When your stress is a long-term issue that becomes chronic stress, your body is affected by releasing high levels of cortisol for long periods of time. Over time, exposure to these hormones may have mental or physical effects on you. In fact, people who suffer from chronic or long-term stress can experience symptoms like anxiety, depression and sleep problems. Physically, they risk high blood pressure, heart disease and digestive problems. Those who suffer from chronic stress also must deal with a weakened immune system.
People who suffer from chronic stress are susceptible to chronic inflammatory conditions and have a weaker immune system than they should. This leaves chronic stress sufferers vulnerable to autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This also means chronic stress sufferers are more susceptible to contracting an infection or disease.
To ward off the effects of stress on the immune system, people turn to probiotics. Some of the bacteria that resides in our large intestine is good bacteria that helps to control bad bacteria by producing substances to inhibit or kill the pathogens that can make us sick. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two types of bacteria that are best for boosting our immune system and keeping us healthy during stressful times, so people should look for probiotics that contain those strains of bacteria.
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Immune And Reproductive Systems
Research has shown the negative effect stress can have on the immune system. In short bursts, the stress hormone cortisol can boost immunity by limiting inflammation, but over longer periods of time, too much cortisol can lead to more inflammation.
Stress can also affect the immune system because it can reduce the effectiveness of white blood cells, which fight off viruses and bacteria.
The release of stress hormones also impacts the reproductive system. Cortisol affects how much oestrogen and progesterone your body makes, which regulates your menstrual cycle. If you’re stressed and have increased levels of cortisol, it can lead to irregular periods.
Stress Can Ruin Your Heart
Stress can physically damage your heart muscle.
Stress damages your heart because stress hormones increase your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels. This forces your heart to work harder, and increases your blood pressure.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the incidence rate of heart attacks and sudden death increases after major stress inducing incidents, like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
In the ancient days of hunter-gatherers, harsh conditions forced people to eat as much as possible when food was available in order to store up for lean times.
That compulsion lives on inside us, and comes out when we are stressed.
Researchers at the University of Miami found that when people find themselves in stressful situations, they are likely to consume 40 percent more food than normal.
Those scientists recommended turning off the nightly newscast before eating dinner, to keep bad news and overeating at bay.
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How Physical And Emotional Stress Affects The Body
Stress will significantly affect your health, both mentally and physically, which will lead to headaches, sleeplessness, and chronic aches and pain in the body. It will also lead to feelings of anxiety and depression and will reduce your energy and productivity levels. Untreated stress will eventually contribute to health conditions that branch out to every part of your body throughout the day and night. Here is how physical and emotional stress affects the body and the mind.
What Is Stress?
- Acute Stress
Acute stress is defined by the onset of symptoms of anxiety associated with a severe traumatic event that created a dissociative reaction. Some professionals refer to it as fight or flight reactions. When stressed, the body produces hormones called norepinephrine and epinephrine which do not disrupt your bodys well-being. Once over, the body returns to its normal function.
- Chronic Stress
Chronic stress relates to feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression over an extended period. In response to the stress levels, the endocrine system releases cortisol which leads to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, and hormonal imbalances.
How Does Stress Affect The Body?
What Are The Signs That I Should Look For?
- Unusual Physical or Behavioral Changes
- Patterns Of Anger Or Outbursts
- Urges To Overeat, Binge, Or Purge
- Use Of Tobacco, Alcohol, Or Drug UseWithdrawal From Social Activity
- Physical Inactivity
Q: What About Energy Levels
Dr. Sinha: Chronic stress can also make you tired. Your adrenal glands act like battery packs they provide energy-producing substances such as adrenaline on demand, a key part of the stress response. Unfortunately, many people overuse these limited battery reserves with endless work and personal demands, leaving them depleted. The result: fatigue.
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Stress And Immune System Function
Stress can reduce the number of natural killer cells or lymphocytes in the body, which are needed to fight viruses, according to the American Psychological Association.
A review of studies in Current Opinion in Psychology found that stress can cause the immune system to produce an inflammatory response, which can be temporarily beneficial for fighting germs. However, if inflammation is persistent and widespread, it can contribute to chronic diseases, including the buildup of plaque on your arterial walls. This is just one of the many factors at play in the complex relationship between stress and your heart.
Chronic stress can produce higher-than-normal levels of the hormonecortisol. This can hamper the bodys anti-inflammatory response and cause continual infections, according to recent immunology research studies.
If youre dealing with stress you cant seem to shake, take time to identify the sources and find ways to avoid or cope with them. Youll be doing your immune system and healtha favor.
Do Women React To Stress Differently Than Men Do
Yes, studies show that women are more likely than men to experience symptoms of stress. Women who are stressed are more likely than men who are stressed to experience depression and anxiety.21 Experts do not fully know the reason for the differences, but it may be related to how mens and womens bodies process stress hormones. Long-term stress especially is more likely to cause problems with moods and anxiety in women.22
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How Do You Manage And Prevent Stress
There are plenty of ways to help manage your stress, or to help you prevent chronic stress in certain situations. Keeping your body healthy and fueled by eating right and staying active can help your body handle stress. If you are overly anxious, try going for a run or walk outside to release excess energy or even practice yoga to help your body relax. Overthinking can increase stress, along with not taking a break during a busy schedule. Meditation can aid your body to relax and help your mind calm down and to stop worrying.
Its also important to make time for hobbies that we enjoy. A lot of times, we cut out the fun in our lives when we are stressed. The fun activities help to put us in a good mood and keep our mind at ease. If you feel as if you are frequently at high levels of stress and have a difficult time calming down and enjoying your life, it may be a good idea to talk to someone about what is causing your stress. Talking aloud about your problems to a loved one or getting professional help may reduce stress levels and get you back on track.
1 Mental Health Foundation: Stress. Last updated March 26, 2021. Accessed July 9, 2021.
2 National Sleep Foundation: Stress and Insomnia. Last updated June 24, 2021. Accessed July 8, 2021.
3 Hale Plus Hearty: Natural Cure For High Blood Pressure. Last updated May 11, 2017. Accessed July 9, 2021.
You Experience A Hormonal Cascade
The instant you begin to feel stressed, your body starts to react, Dr. Ross tells Bustle. The first response to stress begins in the hypothalamus in the brain, which sends signals to the pituitary gland and the adrenal medulla. They start a hormonal cascade, she says. The cascade released hormones throughout the body and includes the stress hormone cortisol. As it spreads, it causes increased heart and breathing rates, a heightened pulse, higher blood pressure, and more sweat, all of which are designed to help us cope with threats and danger.
A study published in 2019 in Seminars In Cell & Developmental Biology found that this cascade even affects the microglia, a type of nerve cell in the brain and spinal cord. After the danger passes, your body is meant to reduce these hormones to normal levels, but if youre under a lot of stress all the time, though, they stay at elevated levels constantly.
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It Can Affect Your Immune System
Chronic stress can damage your bodys defenses against viruses and infections. A review of the effects of stress on the body published in EXCLI Journal in 2017 found that studies have linked stress to poor immune system function, in part because when youre stressed, your body changes the way it secretes hormones that help the immune system. This can lead to something called chronic immune activation, in which your immune system overreacts and starts to attack healthy cells instead of threatening ones.
It can also mean your body becomes more vulnerable to illness and recovers more slowly from diseases and infections. A 2019 study published in Microbial Pathogenesis found that stress can actually help bacterial growth, making infections worse.
Stomach Ache Or Stressed Out
Stress can affect your digestive system in a few ways.
During the stress response, your liver produces extra glucose, which gives you an energy boost. If your body stays in a constant state of stress, it may not be able to keep up with the extra glucose and this can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The symptoms of stress can also upset your digestive system. In fact, youre more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux due to an increased amount of stomach acid. While stress doesnt cause ulcers, it can increase your risk for them and may cause existing ones to flare up.
Stress can also change the way food moves through your body. It may cause diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting or a stomach ache.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Stress
Stress affects our bodies in a multitude of ways. When stress becomes so common that it is our way of life, we need to be aware of the ways in which it affects us so that we can get our stress levels under control. In fact, it is important to manage stress because it can damage our health, mood, relationships, and quality of life.
If you are experiencing high levels of negative stress, you will most likely exhibit cognitive, emotional, physical, and/or behavioral symptoms.
- Cognitive symptoms of stress include
- Memory problems
What Is Stress And How Does It Affect Our Brains And Bodies
Stress is our reaction to a threatening event or stimulus. Such events and stimuli are called stressors. People perceive and react to stressors differently. Something one person would rate as highly stressful might be rated as considerably less stressful by someone else. These responses are affected by such factors as genetics and life experiences.
Stress can be classified as positive, tolerable or toxic. Toxic stress occurs when we are faced with a continuous stressor or triggered by multiple sources and can have a cumulative toll on our physical and mental health. It is an experience that overwhelms us and leaves us feeling powerless and hopeless.
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Need More Help Or Guidance
If youre having a hard time identifying whats causing your stress, or the effects arent going away, its time to seek help. Your doctor can work with you to identify causes and discuss coping techniques. They might also refer you to a licensed therapist or a professional counselor who can help you pinpoint and possibly eliminate sources of stress.And if constant stress leaves you with sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, get help immediately.
Listen to your body, Dr. Campbell says. And when it tells you its under stress, or you need help coping, pay attention to that message, so you can enjoy a long, healthy and high-quality life.
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Surprising Ways Stress Can Affect Your Body
Everyone experiences stress, but not everyone experiences it in the same way. While stress may be best known for taking a toll on the mind, sometimes physical symptoms are your bodys way of telling you that your brain is under too much stress.
Patients come in with real physical symptoms, but they arent caused by any illness, says Loretta Howitt, MD, a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanentes Los Angeles Medical Center. Stress is the underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
Whether you have physical symptoms, mental and emotional symptoms, or both, finding healthy ways to manage stress can help you find relief.
Common physical signs of stress
Even if you dont feel frazzled, your body could be sending you subtle signs that its time to address your stress. When in doubt, talk to your doctor to rule out any physical health issues. But if these symptoms sound familiar, its possible that stress is to blame:
Dry mouth and trouble swallowing Stress can slow down the production of saliva, which can cause dry mouth and make it difficult or uncomfortable to swallow.
Hair loss Hair falls out naturally when the hair follicle moves from the growth cycle to the resting cycle. Stress can disrupt this pattern and cause more follicles to enter the resting cycle at once leading to increased, more noticeable hair loss.
Upset stomach Stress can cause gastrointestinal symptoms of all types, including abdominal pain, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
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