The Effects Of Stress On Your Body

Presented by BetterHelp.

Anyone who experiences stress or anxiety (nearly everyone on the planet) understands the potential psychological symptoms. Becoming extremely worried or fearful can make it difficult, if not impossible, to take care of basic needs and live in the moment. This can affect interpersonal relationships, work performance, and much more.

Something that’s often not discussed enough, perhaps, is the effects of stress on your body. The connection between the mind and the rest of the body is profound; multiple body systems, such as your respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and immune systems, can be affected by stress. This article will cover some prominent ways that stress can cause or manifest as physical symptoms. Stay tuned for the end of the article for tips on managing stress.

Chronic Stress Versus Acute Stress

When discussing stress and its physical effects, it’s important to differentiate between acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is the rapid onset of adrenaline: the fleeting fight-or-flight feeling often accompanied by rapid heartbeat, sweating, a dry feeling in the throat, fast breathing, and tense muscles. People who experience this feeling at inappropriate moments are usually recognized as having panic attacks.

If you experience more than one panic attack during a period of time, you might be dealing with chronic stress. This constant reactivation of the stress hormone can cause marked changes in your body. If you have a never-ending source of stress, such as a high-pressure job or challenging family dynamics, your body might simply be operating on a continuous, though somewhat lower, level of stress than what’s correlated with acute stress attacks.

Upper Body Symptoms

Many people may notice that physical stress effects can correlate with upper body discomfort. Muscles in the upper arms, shoulders, and upper back commonly become tense during periods of high stress. Over time, this can cause chronic headaches.

Chest pain is also common among people who experience chronic stress. This has a lot to do with the cardiovascular system. Blood vessels dilate during times of stress, which can lead to high blood pressure and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat). High blood pressure, or hypertension, can raise the risk of cardiac arrest, heart attack, and stroke.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

The brain-gut connection is vast and still not yet fully understood. What physicians do know is that even slight or temporary changes in the brain can cause gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, and vomiting in severe instances. Chronic stress may also raise your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Potential gastrointestinal symptoms related to stress are not confined to the intestines and bowels. Chronic stress can sometimes trigger painful spasms of the esophagus. Additionally, those with constant anxiety symptoms may experience acid reflux more severely or often than the average person.

General Physical Symptoms

Many physical symptoms of stress can be felt throughout the body. One of the most common symptoms is fatigue, a natural reaction to acute or chronic stress. This resulting fatigue can also make you less likely to exercise or have the energy to prepare healthy meals, both important strategies for preserving physical and mental health. Lack of exercise can eventually cause deconditioning, which is the inability to stay active. This can set off a vicious cycle of inactivity, muscle atrophy, and a poor diet.

Effects On Reproductive Systems

Anyone may experience decreased sex drive as a result of stress. Besides serving as a source of pleasure, regular sex has many physical benefits through the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which are feel-good hormones. These can lead to decreased physical pain and a more robust immune system.

Reproductive Effects For Women Or Those AFAB

People who have periods sometimes experience disruptions in their cycle due to chronic stress. One or multiple periods might be missed due to chronic stress, which can also make it more difficult for family planning. Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) might also have more intense periods resulting from stress.

Reproductive Effects For Men Or Those AMAB

A decrease in testosterone as a result of both short-term and long-term stress can lead to erectile dysfunction, or ED. This often precedes or results from a decline in libido. A lack of sex can sometimes lead to a greater risk of prostate and testicular cancer.

Stress Management Techniques

Chronic stress is a challenging feeling that can leave you feeling isolated or hopeless. Fortunately, a number of strategies exist to help lower stress and keep it at manageable levels:

  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness exercises can help you focus on life at one particular moment and temporarily declutter your brain. Common ways to engage in mindfulness include meditation, body scans, and journal therapy.
  • Engage in a healthy lifestyle. Medical experts recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, which has mental and physical health benefits. Getting enough sleep and eating nutritious foods are also crucial for a healthy body and mind.
  • Talk therapy. Stress that makes it challenging to perform life’s basic functions is often a sign that you should speak to a mental health professional. Many types of talk therapy exist, and your therapist may tailor your treatment to your needs.
  • Embrace your creative side. If speaking about stress is challenging for you, consider drawing, painting, singing, playing a musical instrument, or otherwise engaging in a creative pursuit.

Also Read: How Mindfulness Makes You More Resistant To Stress

Cult Fits
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