What is Stress?
Stress is an exiguous word which in reality has a colossal impact on human body. Stress in slight doses might not be harmful; in fact, stress in small doses might actually motivate you to work more. But chronic stress is detrimental. In some cases, stress might lead to serious depression. If stress is left unattended, then it can even turn out to be fatal in few cases.
According to psychology, a feeling of strain or pressure in the human body is what is called stress. Stress in your body’s way of reacting to any kind of demand or threat. When under stress, the human body responds by releasing stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. This makes your heart pound at a faster rate. Also, the muscles in the human body tighten and the blood pressure rises when experiencing stress. One may also experience trouble in breathing. Effects of stress on your body can cause some serious health issues. Chronic stress can repress your immune system. Stress can meddle with your digestive and reproductive systems and disturb them to a huge extent. Chronic stress also augments the chances of a heart attack or strokes. Stress can also speed up your aging process. Chronic stress, at times, rewires the human brain and leaves the person more vulnerable to other mental health conditions. In such case scenarios, the person can easily become a victim of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
What Are The Effects Of Stress On Your Body?
Now, coming to an elaborate discussion of the effects that stress has on your body, let us see how stress can meddle with your systems and disrupt the bodily functions.
Effect of Stress on the Central Nervous & Endocrine Systems
The Central Nervous System (CNS) is at the helm of your “fight or flight” response. In your brain, the hypothalamus is responsible for commencing the activities in situations of stress. It tells your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones augment your heartbeat and send blood rushing to the parts that are in dire need of it, such as your muscles, heart and other important organs.
In cases of chronic stress, these responses do not cease happening. Normally, as soon as the perceived fear or threat is gone, the hypothalamus should ask your adrenal glands to cease releasing those hormones. But if the CNS fails to go back to normal, the glands keep releasing these hormones and the person experiences constant anxiety.
Chronic stress is responsible for behaviors like overeating or not eating enough, alcohol or drug abuse, tobacco intake and social withdrawal. So this is how stress affects the endocrine and the central nervous system.
Effect of Stress on the Respiratory & Cardiovascular Systems
Stress hormones exert influence on your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During stressful events, the breathing and heartbeat increases. While responding to such situations, your body breathes faster in order to quickly mete out oxygen rich blood to different parts of the body. If you are already suffering from breathing problems like asthma or emphysema, stress makes it even harder for you to breathe. When under stress, your heart also pumps blood faster. The stress hormones compress your blood vessels and direct more oxygen to your muscles. This facilitates you while taking action as it adds to your strength. But this also raises your blood pressure. What chronic or frequent stress does is that it makes your heart work too hard for a prolonged period of time. This raises your blood pressure which in turn augments your chances of having a heart attack or strokes.
Effect of Stress on the Digestive System
While responding to stress, the digestive system of your body works in tandem with the stressful situations. When under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to stimulate your energy. However, when under constant chronic stress, your body might fail to keep up with the extra glucose gush. As a result, chronic stress might enhance your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. The constant and sudden rush of hormones, rapid breathing and an increased heart rate as a result of stress can disrupt your digestive system. The chances of having a heart burn or an acid reflux are quite high when under chronic stress. This happens due to an increase in the stomach acid. Chronic stress has been linked with causing ulcers. Stress can elevate your chances of having ulcers or might cause previous ulcers to exacerbate.
Stress also influences the way food moves through your body. Therefore, under stress, you might experience diarrhea or constipation. Stress also causes nausea, vomiting or a stomach ache. Such is the effects of stress on the digestive system.
Effect of Stress on the Muscular System
Your muscles tend to tense up when under stress in order to safeguard themselves from any injury. They tend to loosen up again when your stress is gone and you relax. But if you are under constant stress, your muscles may not get a chance to relax and as a result would not loosen up. This results in tight muscles which can make a person experience terrible headaches, back and shoulder pain and other body aches. Stress might also be responsible in setting you off on an unhealthy cycle as you stop exercising. This how our body’s muscular system gets affected by stress.
Effect of Stress on the Sexuality & Reproductive System
Stress causes colossal fatigue for both mind and the body. Loss of sex drive is a common effect of stress on your body. When under constant stress, it is quite usual to lose your desire for sex. In men, short term stress might boost the production of their testosterone. But this effect of stress does not last for a long time. Also, constant stress can cause the male hormone testosterone levels to drop. Chronic stress also meddles with a man’s sperm production and might cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Chronic stress can also augment the chances of an infection in male reproductive organs like the prostate and testes. In women, stress can interfere with their menstrual cycle. Stress affects the menstrual cycle where a woman has irregular periods. Stress can also cause heavier or more painful periods. Chronic stress can also enhance the physical symptoms of menopause in women.
Effect of Stress on the Immune System
The stimulation from stress can be advantageous in emergency situations; and this stimulation might also, at times, help combat infections and heal wounds. However, gradually, the effect of stress on the body is not good as stress weakens the body’s immune system and diminishes its response to foreign invaders.
Chronic stress, therefore, makes people more vulnerable to diseases. Under constant stress, people become more defenseless against viral aliments like the flu or the common cold. Stress also makes you more susceptible to other infections. Chronic stress also causes you to take more time than it normally takes you to recuperate from any ailment or injury. Stress can cause a lot of physical trouble for your body.
What Are The Conditions Caused or Aggravated By Stress?
Stress can cause and in some cases, aggravate a few health problems. Health issues caused or exacerbated by stress are:
- Depression and anxiety.
- Pain of any kind; anywhere in the body.
- Sleep issues.
- Autoimmune diseases.
- Digestive problems.
- Skin conditions, especially eczema.
- Heart disease.
- Weight gain or weight loss.
- Reproductive issues.
- Thinking and memory problems.
The worst part of stress is that that the person remains unaware of how much it is affecting him/her. In majority of the cases, people are mostly oblivious to stress while it takes a heavy toll on them. This is why it is very important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and the effects of stress on the body.
Symptoms of Stress Seen In The Body
Cognitive Symptoms of Stress
- Memory problems.
- Inability to concentrate.
- Poor judgment.
- Turning into a cynic.
- Anxious or racing thoughts.
- Constant anxiety.
Emotional Symptoms of Stress
- Depression or a general dismal and gloomy feeling.
- Anxiety or agitation.
- Mood swings.
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Loneliness or isolation.
- Other mental or emotional health problems.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
- Aches or any kind of pain.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Nausea or dizziness.
- Chest pain.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Loss of sex drive.
- Frequent colds or flu.
Behavioral Symptoms of Stress
- Eating too much or too little.
- Excess sleep or inadequate sleep.
- Withdrawing from others.
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities.
- Indulging in cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs to calm self.
Although stress is detrimental for everybody, the tolerance level of stress differs from person to person. Stress is something that can easily creep up on you and the worst part is that that it feels almost normal and usual over time when a person is under constant stress and when the person gets used to the stress. That is why it is important to know the limit of stress you can handle. While some people crumble at the slightest of hardships, others can endure them to a great extent. But in general, there are things that exert an influence on your stress tolerance level and things that help combat stress.
What Are The Things That Influence The Tolerance Level Of The Body To Stress?
Your Support Network: A strong network of family and friends can act a huge buttress while dealing with stress. A person with other people by his/her side to count on is less likely to succumb to stress than a lonesome person.
Your Sense of Control: If you are a person with confidence and believe that it is you who is in control of your life, you are less likely to become a victim of chronic stress compared to a person who lives at the mercy of fettles and circumstances and has no control over their life.
Your Attitude & Outlook: Perspective always matters. Your attitude and outlook towards life can in fact prevent you from falling under chronic stress. If you are a person with hopes and optimism and ready to accept the waywardness of life, you can easily prevent yourself from becoming a subject of chronic stress and also prevents the detrimental effects of stress on the body.
Your Ability To Deal With Your Emotions: Nobody is supposed to take all the punches that life throws at them. You are supposed to fall and crumble, get hurt and mad. You are supposed to feel all messed up with your emotions. And that is okay. What is important is how you deal with your emotions afterwards and how you bounce back from stress. If you have the ability to identify and accept your emotions and deal with them properly, you are a lot less likely to fall under chronic stress. Neglecting your emotions is certainly not the way out of stress as many might think. You should give yourself appropriate time to deal with your emotions and to brave the ill effects of stress on your body.
Your Knowledge & Preparation: Being aware of what stress is and the probable signs of stress and preparing yourself to deal with it in a realistic way is a helpful way of coping with stress.
Now, no matter what and how you try, you can never completely get rid of stress in your life. But you can somewhat control the level of stress that affects you. There are many things that help you combat stress. Regular exercises like running, jogging can actually help you stay stress free. Meditation and yoga also helps to a great extent in dealing and preventing the effects of stress on your body. Other ways to combat stress are by connecting to others and engaging your senses into something. Talking it out with somebody you can count on or engaging yourself in an activity that keeps you centered help prevent stress from developing a grip over you. Also, a proper diet and an adequate amount of rest are necessary in order to live a healthy and stress-free life.
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