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The Effects of Stress on Your Body

A female that is stressed out.

Are you feeling stressed out? Overwhelmed? Increasingly anxious? If so, you aren’t alone. The American Psychological Association conducted a poll that revealed Americans’ stress levels are on the rise. Why? Well, you might not be surprised to hear that:

  • 87% of us are stressed due to a rise in prices of everyday items (inflation)
  • 81% of us are stressed due to supply chain issues
  • 81% of us are stressed due to global uncertainty
  • 80% of us are stressed due to potential retaliation from Russia
  • 80% of us are stressed due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
 

It’s safe to say that we all encounter stress in our lives (yes, even your therapist). Stress, fear, and anxiety are all regular emotions associated with the human experience. However, not many of us realize how it is affecting our emotional, mental, and even physical health.

As a mental health therapist, I help my clients manage and overcome their stress and anxiety to achieve a higher quality of life. Additionally, I believe that the first step to overcoming is understanding. That’s why today’s blog post is covering the effect of stress on your body. Keep reading to learn what stress is and how it is affecting you.

What is Stress?

Before we dive into the effect of stress on your body, what is it? Well, Verywell Mind defines stress as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain.” Essentially, it is your body’s response to anything that requires action.

While everyone experiences stress at some point during their life, chronic stress can feel as though it is never-ending. Born out of traumatic experiences, extremely taxing jobs, bad marriages, or something else entirely, chronic stress can sometimes feel inescapable.

While stress might seem like it exists entirely within your head, the connection between our minds and our bodies is miraculous. In addition to the mental and emotional toll stress takes, the effect of stress on your body is demonstrated throughout the following systems:

Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems

You might recognize your central nervous system as controlling your “fight or flight” response. When we encounter a stressor, our brains (specifically, our hypothalamus) signal our adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When the perceived fear is gone, our brains signal the systems to return to normal.

However, if you are chronically stressed, your central nervous system fails to return to normal. Your heartbeat remains elevated, which can damage your arteries over time and potentially cause a heart attack.

Digestive System

When we’re stressed, our livers produce extra blood sugar (aka glucose) to give ourselves a boost of energy. However, when you’re under chronic stress, your body might produce more glucose than it can handle. As a result, it can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Of course, the rapid breathing, influx of hormones, and elevated heart rate associated with stress can also upset your digestive system. Additionally, you’re more likely to experience heartburn or acid reflux if you’re constantly stressed out.

Muscular System

If you think back to the last time you were stressed, you might remember your muscles tensing up. This happens when they attempt to protect themselves from stressful stimuli, and they will release whenever you relax. However, if you are constantly stressed, your muscles might never get to experience that relief. This can cause headaches, body aches, shoulder pain, and back pain.

Reproductive System and Sexuality

Did you know chronic stress affects your reproductive system and/or sexuality? Since being stressed out is exhausting, it can prompt you to lose your desire and/or sex drive. For men, chronic stress can cause testosterone levels to drop, which interferes with sperm production, increases the risk of infection, and causes erectile dysfunction or impotence. For women, chronic stress disrupts their menstrual cycle and magnifies symptoms of menopause.

Immune System

Being under stress stimulates the immune system, which might seem like a good thing. However, if you are constantly releasing stress hormones, your immune system will begin to weaken. This leaves you more susceptible to foreign invaders and illnesses like the flu or common cold.

Tips For Relieving Stress

So, now that you understand the effect of stress on your body, what are you supposed to do about it? While some stress is inevitable, there are certain things you can do to lessen its effect:

  • Eating healthy and drinking water. While eating junk food and drinking alcohol might ease symptoms initially, they will amplify your stress in the long run. To reduce your stress levels, try consuming a healthy, balanced diet and drinking lots of water instead. 
  • Exercising regularly. Exercise is known to be a powerful stress reducer. Aerobic exercise is great for releasing endorphins (which naturally make you feel better), and yoga is a terrific relaxer. 
  • Quit smoking. While nicotine might seem like a stress reliever, it actually places more stress on your body (think: reduced blood flow and limited breathing). If you’re experiencing prolonged stress and anxiety, smoking won’t help.
  • Practice relaxing. There is a multitude of relaxation techniques that are designed to reduce stress. If mindfulness meditation isn’t your thing, you can simply practice breathing deeply or following guided imagery. 
  • Psychotherapy. Certain types of therapy can help address the symptoms of stress. These include both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Best Mental Health Therapist in Fort Worth, Texas

Believe it or not, the effect of stress on your body is immense. So, if you or a loved one is struggling with chronic stress, anxiety, or depression, the best way to relieve your symptoms is to speak with a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Here at Fort Wellness Counseling, I have over a decade of experience helping people overcome their anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Utilizing patient-centered care that is tailored to your specific needs, I will provide you with the therapy coping skills necessary to live a stress-free life.

How does that sound? Contact our team to schedule an appointment.