How Can Stress Affect Your Physical Health

November 4, 2022
How Can Stress Affect Your Physical Health
How Can Stress Affect Your Physical Health

A 2022 poll by the American Psychological Association shows that 65% of Americans are stressed, citing economic challenges and tense political climates as significant reasons.

The human body can handle stress and health issues up to a certain point. However, chronic stress has an effect on every system of the body, including the respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, musculoskeletal, nervous, gastrointestinal, and reproductive systems. If left unchecked, stress can be a possible cause of serious health risks.

Stress is often linked with mental health issues. Check your mental state online with SmartCare.

What is Stress, and Why Does It Happen

Experts describe stress as the emotional, psychological, or physical tension a person feels when under pressure or overwhelmed. It is the body’s way of responding to anything that requires attention or action.

Stress is also the body’s natural defense behavior against danger and predators. It is a psychological and physiological response that often occurs when a person experiences new and unexpected situations that threaten the sense of self. When faced with a threat or a challenge, the body undergoes a partially physical response. The brain activates the “fight-or-flight” response, which triggers a person to stay and fight or flee to safety.

The body produces excess cortisol, the stress hormone, and adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” hormone, which readies someone to take the required position. These hormones cause the following mental reactions:

  • Alertness
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heightened muscle preparedness

Chronic stress should not be confused with acute stress, which occurs within a month of a traumatic event. Acute stress is short-term, while extreme stress is long-term.

Common Signs of Stress

Because of how extensively stress impacts the body, signs will manifest differently. Common stress symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Inability to focus
  • Angry outburst
  • Frequent crying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Tense muscles
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability
  • Depression
Stress symptoms

What Does Stress Do to the Body

How does stress affect the body? The short and long-term effects of stress on the body vary from person to person. Short-term effects are not a cause for concern as they quickly resolve independently.

However, research published in a biology medical journal shows that chronic stress can lead to inflammation, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune conditions. Here is how some of the long-term effects of stress can affect the body’s systems.

Respiratory System

Emotional stress causes the airway between the nose and lungs to constrict, which can cause shortness of breath. This situation has more of an impact on people with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic bronchitis. Acute stress can even trigger asthmatic attacks.

Ask a doctor about helpful stress management techniques to prevent harmful outcomes.

Musculoskeletal System

Typically, the muscles tense up in preparation for fight or flight at the onset of stress and ease up once the anxiety passes. However, chronic stress forces the muscles to be in a constant state of tension. Chronic muscle tension can lead to other conditions like tension headaches and migraines.

Cardiovascular System

With acute stress, a person’s heart rate and blood pressure increase and return to normal after the anxiety passes. Chronic stress keeps the heart rate constantly elevated, increasing blood pressure and the risk of developing a heart attack and stroke.
Persistent chronic stress can also pressure the vascular system causing inflammation, mainly in the coronary arteries.

Nervous System

The autonomic system forms part of the nervous system and directly impacts the body’s physical response to stress. The autonomic system is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The SNS is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response, activates the release of cortisol and adrenaline, and prepares the body for reacting. Chronic stress forces this body to stay constantly prepared. The autonomic system continues to trigger physical responses causing a long-term drain on the body.

Reproductive System

In men, chronic stress decreases testosterone, contributing to a low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and impotence. In women, prolonged stress causes irregular or absent menstruation, reduced sexual desire, and impacts the ability to conceive or carry a baby to term.

Can Stress Make You Sick?

Yes, stress can make a person sick. This is because prolonged stress compromises the body’s immune system and affects its ability to fight off illnesses. During this time, a person can develop cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Long-term effects of stress on the body

How to Manage Stress Effectively

Because of the different health issues that stress causes, below are a few ways a person can implement to reverse its impact before it becomes severe.

  • Practice good nutrition and maintain physical activity. A balanced diet helps provide the body with energy to combat stress. Exercise is a natural mood booster that releases endorphins, which allow a person to feel good.
  • Take a break. Give your mind a break by doing restful things like yoga, praying, tai chi, meditation, and listening to calming music.
  • Make time for hobbies. Set time aside to do things that bring personal joy. These activities include knitting, playing golf, watching movies, reading, or playing board games.

Bottom Line

Stress in small doses is normal and does not have any long-lasting negative impact on a person’s health. However, chronic stress can cause adverse health issues, affecting various body parts. If someone suspects they have stress, they should consult a professional to analyze it to ensure they don’t have chronic stress. Contact Mango Clinic today to go through a detailed mental health evaluation.


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