Stress affects just about everyone’s daily lives. Unfortunately, stress is not a benign thing. It can affect your body in ways that can have a long-lasting impact on your health.
Your body, however, has a much broader definition of stress. To your body, stress is synonymous with change.
Anything that causes a change in your life causes stress. It doesn’t matter if it is a “good” change or a “bad” change, they are both stress.
When you find your dream apartment and get ready to move, that is stress. If you break your leg, that is stress. Good or bad, if it is a change in your life, it is stress as far as your body is concerned.
Anything that causes change in your daily routine is stressful.
Anything that causes change in your health is stressful.
Imagined changes are just as stressful as real changes.
Here are some ways stress can affect your health:
The Effect of Stress on Your Body
There is a certain degree in which stress can affect your body. A stressed person will complain of headaches and body pains here and there. If left unchecked, this will lead to a migraine and muscle tension that will eventually lead to stiffness.
Major changes will affect the biochemical functions of your body. This involves diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and dizziness.
You will find it hard to sleep at nights even if you feel weak and needs rest. People usually resort to medications to counter this effect, but will only give temporary remedy.
To those who suffer from a weak heart, most often they will complain of chest pains and rapid heartbeat – the usual signs and symptoms that will eventually lead to stroke or cardiac arrest.
Note, however, different physical manifestations of stress can be seen for different people, it all depends on your body’s capacity.
If stress becomes persistent and low-level, however, all parts of the body’s stress apparatus (the brain, heart, lungs, vessels, and muscles) become chronically over-activated or under-activated.
This may produce physical or psychologic damage over time. Acute stress can also be harmful in certain situations.
The Effect of Stress on Your Brain
Stress can cause you to lose your concentration and memory abilities. Whether this is psychological or physiological is not completely clear.
When you are under stress, parts of your brain associated with memory, such as the hippocampus, do not work well and you cannot turn short-term memory into long-term memory.
You can also fail to concentrate on things you hear or things you are reading. It isn’t clear whether this is a long-term effect or short-term effect; however, things like stress reduction techniques seem to be able to restore your ability to think.
Stress causes problems with the chemicals in your brain. When life is smooth, your brain is able to produce enough “calming chemicals,” such as serotonin, to keep up with normal levels of stress, demands, and expectations.
But when too much stress is placed on the brain, it begins to fall behind in its ability to cope. As the stress continues, some of the calming chemicals may begin to fail.
Important nerve centers then become distressed. You enter a state of brain chemical imbalance known as – overstress.
Overstress makes people feel terrible. With stress overwhelming the brain, a person feels “overwhelmed” by life.
People complain of being tired, unable to fall asleep or to obtain a restful night’s sleep. They have plagues of aches and pains, lack of energy, lack of enjoyment of life. They feel depressed, anxious, or just unable to cope with life.
The Effect of Stress on Your Gastrointestinal Tract
Stress triggers the body’s fight or flight response so that epinephrine and norepinephrine are released from your adrenal glands. This has multiple effects on the body.
One thing this phenomenon does is shunt blood away from the gastrointestinal tract and toward the muscles of the body as a way of gearing up to “fight or flee” from a real or imagined opponent.
This can lead to a decreased blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, which translates into indigestion and poor uptake of nutrients. Fortunately, this can be short-lived unless you live under situations of chronic stress. Then the GI system will be more permanently affected.
The Effect of Stress on Your Cardiovascular System
Stress causes the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which automatically raises your blood pressure and heart rate. This puts more stress on your heart and puts you at higher risk of suffering from hypertension-related diseases like heart failure, stroke, and heart attack.
These kinds of things do not happen overnight but if you suffer from chronic stress, the long-lasting implications of heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure, and stroke are real possibilities, especially if you do not eat well or have a strong family history of heart disease.
The Effect of Stress on Your Immune System
Excess stress also causes the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex. Cortisol has many effects on the body but one of the main ones is that it suppresses the immune system.
High levels of cortisol mean that you are at greater risk of getting colds and the flu and have a harder time healing from open sores, cuts, or wounds.
Cortisol can suppress several aspects of the immune system so you will find yourself sicker more often when under stress than you would be if you were under less stress.
Stress Affects Your Looks
Stress has been proven to rid your body of many essential vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins C, E, and B.
This leads to lethargy, lower focused mental activities (clinically stress causes more erratic brain activity and a reduction in the short term and long term memory), drying out and aging of the skin (in some).
And in others, an increase in the sebaceous gland activity – which usually brings pustules, acne, and rosacea – all bring more stress as we then become more entangled in how others view our physical appearance.
When you can’t sleep, you look tired. When you have aches and pains, you look (and feel) unhappy. When you have no energy, you can’t participate in life with your usual smile and sparkle. Stress can also cause skin rashes and stomach problems, which will also affect how you look.
Physical Effects of Stress on Women When It Is Distress
Women seem to suffer from stress more often than men; with 73% of women identifying themselves as the primary decision-maker in the household and the caregivers for their children, partner and in some cases parent or parents, each aspect of care brings stress.
Unfortunately, too often women do not take the necessary steps to alleviate that stress, and their own physical health suffers.
Physical effects of stress on women when that stress is negative distress include health concerns such as a backache, shoulder and neck pain, headache, migraine, and digestive distresses.
The list goes on with insomnia, the absence of menstruation, abnormal bleeding during menstruation, pregnancy concerns, and fertility problems.
The physical effects of stress on women can be traced to everything from itchy skin to heart disease and cancer, including mood swings, weight gain, serious fatigue, crying, aches, and pains.
Behavioral Problems Related to Stress
Aside from physical manifestations of stress in your body, you might also notice some behavioral changes while under the throes of stress.
Changes in sleeping patterns, lack of sleep or inability to sleep during normal slumber hours are usually the initial reactions to stress. These are usually caused by heightened emotional and mental functions which are more into the negative aspect rather than positive.
Self-pity and isolation are caused by the depressed mental state of the person when certain problems crop up in their everyday life.
Irritability and anger will start when the person is bereft of his or her natural ability to rationalize which is usually the case when stressed or being burdened by heavy problems.
Things You Can Do To Reduce Stress
Because stress can wreak havoc on your body, you need to do what you can to lessen the stress on your life so you can remain healthy.
Sometimes it is just a matter of reducing the things in your life that are major sources of stress. It might mean getting out of a stressful relationship, getting your finances in order or changing your job situation so you don’t go to work each day with stressful feelings.
If you are stressed-out or anxious and tend to become negative when in this state of mind, try the following steps:
Take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep.
Express your emotional reactions honestly so you can effectively deal with what’s bothering you.
Confide in someone – your mate, a good friend or a trusted relative.
View the cup as half full instead of half empty.
Stress balls are wonderful for relieving tension and pent up frustration. Many people will find that when they are going through a period of stress they feel the need to do something with their hands.
If you can’t change your circumstances, you may want to practice stress-relieving techniques. These include things like meditation, Tai chi, yoga, and Qigong.
These activities can be easily learned through attending classes at a local health club or purchase a DVD, an online program or any course available online that will teach you ways to reduce the amount of stress you perceive in your life so you can live a healthier life.
Another great way to reduce stress is to take a vacation or spend time in nature that naturally calms the mind, body, and spirit.