Constantly Stressed? Here’s How it Impacts Your Body

| Lifestyle Tips

We experience stress every day, our thoughts and feelings will lead to an average of 45 daily negative reactions. Throughout the day, our brains work to protect us from stressful experiences through involuntary bodily responses like quickened breathing, increased sweating, and tensing up.

Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge, it's the feeling of tension that can come from any event that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. These responses are designed to help you survive, but prolonged exposure can have detrimental effects on your body.

It’s More than a Feeling

Stress affects all systems of the body. When stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious mental and physical consequences.

Musculoskeletal: When you feel stressed, you may notice your jaw is locked or your fists are clenched, this is caused by muscle tension. When the brain senses injury or pain, it seizes the muscles to brace for impact. Chronic stress can cause the muscles to remain in a state of guardedness. Tension headaches, migraines, and back pains are associated with chronic muscle tension.

Respiratory: Breathing is easily thrown off track by stressful events. Think about how often you’ve heard “take a deep breath and calm down”. Stress can trigger your breathing rate to increase, causing the airway between the nose and lungs to constrict. Disrupting the airway can lead to shortness of breath, panic attacks, or asthma attacks.

Cardiovascular System: The heart and blood vessels sync to our thoughts and emotions. Just the memory of a stressful event can cause the heart to pump faster, pushing the body into a fight or flight response. Consistently increasing your blood pressure raises the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.

Endocrine System: Our endocrine system reacts to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”. Chronic stress can damage the communication between the brain and the release of hormones which has been linked to conditions like chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders, depression, and immune disorders.

Gastrointestinal System: The gastrointestinal system includes the esophagus, stomach, bowel, and intestines. Stress may trigger pain, bloating, gassiness, nausea, and other stomach discomforts. Disruption of the GI tract triggers a miscommunication between our hundreds of millions of neurons in the intestines and the brain, causing a negative impact on our ability to think and control emotions.

Explore Stress Management Strategies

Stress is normal and in small doses, it's healthy! But chronic or extreme stress can make every day feel overwhelming and lead to serious health problems. Learning to manage your stress is critical for building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Effective stress management looks different for everyone, but you can explore strategies like:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Setting a good sleep routine
  • Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga
  • Keeping a journal to express your thoughts
  • Avoiding excess sugar and caffeine
  • Setting aside time for hobbies
  • Avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and illegal substances
  • Maintaining a healthy support network

While these approaches have been shown to help lower stress levels, sometimes you need additional support. If you are experiencing extreme or chronic stress, you don’t have to handle it on your own, the team at Schneck is here to help. If you or someone you know could use help with stress management, contact your primary care physician or our mental health team today.

About the Author

David J. Hartung DO

Dr. Dave Hartung is a physician with Schneck Primary Care.

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