Stress can negatively impact all aspects of your health. Read on to learn the effects stress has on the body, so that you can take preventative measures.
We’re all familiar with the feeling of stress. A little too familiar, maybe.
You leave something to the last minute, or realize you missed a deadline, or have a presentation coming up, or receive bad news….and the old stress monster rears its ugly head.
Your heart pounds, your breath quickens, your muscles tense up.
On the one hand, stress can be very useful.
Stress is crucial for our survival.
When you are in an unfamiliar or potentially dangerous environment, your body will kick in to fight-or-flight mode.
All the symptoms of stress, such as a rapid heart beat or fast breathing, are mechanisms that our body uses to handle or get out of stressful situations.
Without this built-in warning system, humans would be toast long ago. (Probably gobbled up by lions or some other threatening beast that we didn’t run away from).
Stress helps us get out of threatening situations where we have to react fast.
And often, it really just helps us get our butts in gear.
On the other hand, too much or ongoing (chronic) stress is not good, and can contribute to a range of health issues.
Here Are 6 Effects Stress Has on The Body:
1. Increased Blood Pressure and Risk of CVD
When you are under stress, you notice your heart beats faster and stronger.
Your heart is working hard to quickly pump blood through your body to bring oxygen to where it is needed most in the body – your vital organs and muscles – so that you can fight or run.
Stressful situations trigger your brain’s hypothalamus to tell your adrenal glands to release stress hormones. These stress hormones, including the stress hormone, cortisol, and the fight-or-flight hormone, epinephrine (aka adrenaline), cause your blood vessels to constrict, which raises your blood pressure.
Typically, once the stressor is gone and no longer a perceived threat, your blood pressure will drop back to normal. However, chronic stress does not allow your body to fully return to an unstressed state.
Prolonged stress puts prolonged strain on your heart, and can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), including hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease, and stroke (1, 2). This increase in risk is especially true for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions (2).
2. Increased Blood Sugar and Risk of Diabetes
When you experience stress, stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol tell your liver to release more glucose (sugar) into the blood stream, in order to give you the energy spike you need to get out of whatever stressful situation you are in.
If the stress is chronic, this raised blood sugar can persist until it reaches a point where your body can’t keep up.
High blood sugar is a risk factor for insulin resistance, prediabetes, and diabetes.
Chronic stress is associated with increased risk of developing diabetes (3).
What’s more, the effects that stress can have on the body, often go hand-in-hand; the increased risk of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes may be partially due to stress (3). Stress is one of many common factors between these two conditions.
3. Weakened Immune System
Extended stress can lead to weakened immunity, as cortisol suppresses the immune system.
Chronic stress increases susceptibility to illnesses such as the cold and flu, especially for people who are elderly or already sick (4).
4. Weight Gain/Loss
Stress can also affect your eating behaviours and your weight.
Some people eat as a coping mechanism when under stress, which can result in the over-consumption of foods high in calories, sugar, and fat.
Stress can also lead to a decrease in physical activity and sleep.
These factors, along with the increased blood sugar that stress induces, can lead to weight gain.
On the other hand, weight loss can also occur in some situations.
Under-eating is another possible behavioural response to stress.
Also, the stress hormone, cortisol, works to mobilizes resources for the body to use in stressful situations. Cortisol breaks down fat and protein, and can even break down bone, in order to provide your body with the energy and resources it needs while under stress.
This is why some people lose weight when stressed.
5. Anxiety and Depression
Stress, of course, takes a toll on your mental health.
Chronic stress can lead to:
- substance use problems
- sleep problems
- memory problems
- social withdrawal
- …and more
And, as mentioned earlier, the negative health outcomes that stress can cause, are often linked. Depression is associated with 37-60% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (5, 6).
6. Aches and Pains
When under stress, your muscles tense up. With constant, prolonged stress, your muscles do not get a chance to relax.
This sustained muscle tension can cause:
- back, shoulder, neck pain
- body aches
- reduced physical activity
Tips to Reduce and Manage Stress
The thing with stress, is that it’s often out of our control.
You can’t foresee what challenges or bumps in the road (figuratively AND literally) may suddenly pop up in front of you.
There are always going to be stressors, and that is precisely the reason we have these built-in stress hormones and responses. As mentioned before, stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
You can recover from temporary stress. It’s the chronic stress you want to avoid.
The best approach to managing stress may be to control what you can, and aim to reduce the prolonged, everyday stressors in your life.
Stress management differs between everyone, but some helpful places to start may include:
- establishing a regular routine
- getting up and going to bed at the same time every day (and allowing for 7-9 hours of sleep)
- exercising regularly (7)
- eating a balanced diet of nutrient-dense whole foods
- maintaining regular social connections and interactions
- …and more
Work on reducing your daily stress, so that your body remains healthy, you avoid these 6 effects on the body, and you are better prepared to handle the unexpected stressors that life throws at you.
Extended stress can take a toll on your body. Stress can lead to health consequences including cardiovascular disease risk, diabetes risk, weight gain/loss, anxiety and depression, and body aches and pains. Establish a daily routine to keep chronic stress in check.
That’s all for this article on the effects of stress on the body. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop them below.