What Happens When the Body is Stressed?
Stress is a huge topic in health, but usually what we are told in regard to stress is a bit oversimplified: Reduce your stress; too much stress is bad for your health. This is not a bad advice, but it can be such a vague and overwhelming idea that it is hard to know where to start. You can begin by knowing the effect of stress on the body to help you.
Understanding what actually happens when the body is stressed can help you to be more aware of what is going on during times of increased stress.
When your body is responding to a stressful situation-whether that is a stressful environment or a thought or feeling, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode, meaning it prepares itself to handle the stress by either confronting it or avoiding it. There are a number of physiological changes that happen in the body during stress.
Heart rate, breath rate, and blood pressure are increased. The smooth muscles in the body, such as in the digestive system, slow down. More energy is sent to the skeletal muscles for movement. Glucose and fats are released into the blood stream for increased energy. Energy is diverted away from growth and sexual function. Memory and concentration is increased in the short term, but over time, both are decreased. The immune system is weakened to save energy to deal with stressful situations. Pain signals are decreased. The brain signals the body to release hormones to deal with stress, such as cortical, adrenaline, and endorphins.
Physical Effects of Stress on the Body
The long term effects of stress on the body are far-reaching and can have a negative effect on health in general. Because the chemicals released in the body during stress affect a number of systems in the body, many possible health issues can arise from prolonged stress.
Stress demands the production of energy. Whether the stress is real or imagined, your body will try to produce energy to try to deal with stress. Long periods of stress deplete the body’s hormones used in energy production, leaving you feeling “burned out.”
Weakened immune system
Because stress diverts energy away from your immune system, it can lead to more incidences of cold or flu, or increase your risk for autoimmune conditions such as allergies or rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, a weakened immune system is less able to fight off potentially cancerous cells, so stress can increase your risk for cancer.
Stress causes the entire cardiovascular system to work harder, leading the blood vessels to wear out more quickly. More fat enters into the blood stream for energy, and this can accumulate in the blood vessels leading to an increased risk for atherosclerosis (narrowing of the vessels) and heart disease.
The smooth muscles in the digestive system are deactivated during stress, making digestion much slower. This can lead over time to symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers, and constipation. The digestive system is full of nerve endings and closely connected to other systems of the body, so the negative effects of stress on digestion can be hard on your overall health and vitality.
When stress occurs, it activates the pancreas to release glucagon which increases blood sugar levels for energy. It also reduces the production of insulin-a hormone in charge of storing sugar in the body-and promotes insulin resistance. Over time, this can lead to an increased risk for developing insulin -resistant (Type 2) diabetes.
Reduced memory and concentration
For a short period, stress improves memory and concentration. But in the long term, the area of the brain in charge of memory and concentration loses its ability to respond to the hormones released by stress, and memory and concentration decreased.
The lifespan of the cells in your body decreases in response to long-term stress. This speeds up the aging process. A good way to combat ongoing stress is to adopt a regular stress management program.
If the body is undergoing constant stress, it is sending energy to the muscles in your body. But since the body is not using those muscles, the energy stagnates and leads to chronic muscle tension, and symptoms such as persistent back or neck pain can develop.
Recognizing and Dealing With Your Stress
The first step in dealing with stress is being able to recognize when it is happening, and what it is you are stressing about, This is often the most difficult part, as stress can become such a regular part of life, that it becomes a challenge to even recognize it is there.
Chronic stress can cause tension headaches, fatigue, depression, excess weight from eating too much, and high blood sugar levels that could lead to diabetes. Exercise is one of the ways to burn off stress and keep it under control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if your stress continues. now the effect of stress on the body and see your doctor for help if your stress continues. Try to maintain a healthy weight, regular exercise and quit smoking.