Stress is a normal part of life. The human body is designed to experience stress and react accordingly. However, it can have serious consequences if a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation. As a result, the individual may feel overworked and develop stress-related tension. This unrelenting strain on the body may contribute to additional health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or certain mental disorders.
According to BetterHelp, if you frequently feel frazzled and overwhelmed, there are strategies that can help you to bring your nervous system back into balance. Protect yourself by learning how to recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and take the necessary steps to manage it. Read on to learn how stress can affect your overall health.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to a potential threat or demand. When you sense danger – whether it is real or not – the body’s natural defence triggers an automatic process known as the ‘fight-flight-freeze’ response. During this reaction, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. These chemicals can increase your concentration, strength and ability to act.
Typically, you also experience a faster heartbeat, quickening breath and tight muscles. This response is designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. In unsafe conditions, it can even save your life.
Sometimes, the nervous system may register emotional threats as physical ones. For example, if you feel distressed over an argument with a friend or a work deadline, your body might react just as strongly as if it was facing a life-or-death situation. The more often this stress response is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger.
This infographic was created by McLean DDS, a cosmetic dentist in McLean VA.
Effects of stress
Chronic stress can take a heavy toll on your health. It could cause a variety of symptoms and affect the major systems in the body, including:
- Digestive system. When under stress, the liver increases your blood sugar to produce a boost of energy. If this happens regularly, your body may have trouble breaking down the excess glucose, leading to a higher risk of type two diabetes. Due to the rush of stress hormones, you may also experience an upset stomach or acid reflux from the extra stomach acid produced.
- Cardiovascular system. Stress causes your heart to beat harder and faster so that it can pump more blood to the major organs and muscles, possibly raising your blood pressure. Over time, this puts undue strain on the heart, which can lead to serious health implications, such as strokes and heart attacks.
- Respiratory system. During the stress response, you breathe quicker in an effort to distribute more oxygen-rich blood to the body. The muscles that help you inhale and exhale tend to become tense, which could leave you short of breath. If you have an existing respiratory problem such as asthma, stress might make it more difficult to breathe.
- Immune system. The body’s stress response stimulates the immune system, which aids in healing wounds and injuries. Over time, though, chronic stress can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections, such as the flu or common cold. It might also take you longer to recover from illnesses.
- Reproductive system. Stress can affect both the male and female reproductive systems, particularly with issues of fertility and libido. If a man experiences chronic stress, his testosterone levels may begin to drop. This can interfere with sperm production and sometimes cause erectile dysfunction. Alternatively, some women might experience changes in their menstrual cycle. Periods may stop or become irregular, and premenstrual symptoms can become more severe.
- Muscular system. When the body is stressed, the muscles tend to become tense in order to protect themselves from injury. They typically release once you unwind, but if you are constantly feeling overwhelmed, the muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles can occasionally cause headaches, which might make it difficult to concentrate, sleep or enjoy social activities.
How to cope with stress
If you experience symptoms of stress, taking the proper steps to manage it could have many health benefits. Effective coping strategies include:
- Spending time with family and friends
- Practising calming techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing or tai chi
- Exercising regularly
- Getting an adequate amount of sleep
- Setting aside time for hobbies or relaxing activities, such as listening to music or reading a book
In today’s fast-paced world, stress is common but your mind and body can pay a steep price if it is not kept in check. Handling stress correctly may help you feel happier and healthier in the long run. To learn more ways that stress can affect your overall health.
Dr Jeena Devasia, DDS, earned her undergraduate degree from Virginia Commonwealth University (summa cum laude). She has participated in multiple Mission of Mercy projects and is a dentist at McLean DDS.