6 Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Posted June 12, 2023 by in Health + Fitness
stressed mother

Stress is a normal human response or reaction caused by unfavorable circumstances. It is characterized by a state of worry or feelings of emotional or physical tension. Sometimes, stress can be a positive force that serves as motivation in certain situations, such as a job interview. However, it can also be a negative force in many cases. Prolonged stress, if left untreated, can become chronic, bringing down your health and well-being. 

The American Institute of stress statistics reported that about 33% of people experience extreme stress, and more than 70% of people experience stress that negatively impacts their physical and mental health. The most common signs that indicate stress include feeling overwhelmed, low self-esteem, fatigue, sleeping difficulties, panic attacks, racing mind, depression, etc. But that’s not it; extreme stress can have several other adverse effects on health. This article will discuss how stress can have a detrimental effect on your overall well-being:

Affects Your Cardiovascular System

Being stressed over an extended period of time has been linked to the development of several cardiovascular diseases. Stress is one of the major risk factors involved in the increased likelihood of developing heart and circulatory disease. Moreover, high blood pressure and high blood glucose are two main contributing factors to heart disease. Frequent and constant episodes of stress lead to elevated blood pressure as well as blood sugar, leading to heart disease. 

Meanwhile, most people are not aware of the adverse effects of stress on general well-being. 

It is essential to educate the general public about it and address the issue in order to promote healthy communities. Empowering the communities to advocate for their own health needs and generating policy plans is the way forward. It is only possible through public health advocacy, which involves the development and implementation of educational programs and navigation of public health challenges, etc. 

Causes Muscle Tension 

Muscle tension is the main reflex response of your body to stress. As the feeling of stress begins to arise, the brain sends signals to the nerves to activate and tighten the muscles to ensure protection. It is your body’s state of constant guardedness against pain and injury. If you experience constant stress, your muscles will also remain tensed over a prolonged period of time. It can lead to many stress-related disorders, such as headaches or migraine. 

In case of extreme stress, you may experience muscle tension in the neck, shoulder, and head and pain/stiffness in any area of the body. People who have a job or work-related stress also complain of feeling musculoskeletal pain in their lower back and upper extremities. With chronic stress, constant muscle constriction can also lead to many muscle injuries, which can be fatal. However, you can take some steps to reduce muscle tension and pain caused by stress, such as exercise, meditation, etc. 

Weakens Your Immune System

Initially, stress serves as a stimulator for the immune system. The release of cortisol during stress boosts immunity for a short period of time by limiting inflammation, which proves to be a positive aspect in immediate situations as it can help wounds heal and avoid infections. However, prolonged stress leads to an increased level of cortisol in the body, which can have a negative impact on your immunity. Not only that, but stress can also damage the body’s own cells, trigger immune responses, etc. 

Moreover, your body needs T-cells when it experiences extreme stress. T-cells are responsible for fighting germs and providing protection against pathogens and diseases. Meanwhile, high levels of cortisol continue to suppress them, which in turn weakens your immune system. 

Affects Your Reproductive System

In times of extreme stress, it is normal to lose your sexual desire. Chronic stress leads to constant exposure to cortisol while suppressing the sex hormone. In males, prolonged stress results in low levels of testosterone, which in turn affects sperm production. It can also cause erectile dysfunction, infections in the prostate and testes, etc. All of this combined can also result in a decreased sex drive. 

Moreover, incessant fatigue is one of the major experiences of chronic stress. Feeling burnt out and fatigued most of the day will keep you too distracted to think about pleasure and arousal. In women, stress is also a major contributory factor in the menstrual cycle. If you are always stressed, you may experience irregular and painful periods. Chronic stress also has a major role in menopause, as it can magnify its physical symptoms. It can cause symptoms like hot flashes, disrupted sleep, etc. 

Causes Gastrointestinal Disturbances

Too much stress can also disturb the flow of digestion and become a cause for an upset stomach. In fact, the digestive system cannot perform its functions properly under extreme stress. The most common gastrointestinal disturbances caused by stress include heartburn, indigestion, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, etc. As the stomach slows down during stress, it results in an increased motor function in the large intestine. 

Extreme stress also messes with the gut flora, which can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. Moreover, stress can also contribute to the development of other digestive disorders. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers, and more. 

Disturbs The Blood Sugar Balance

Feeling stressed causes the release of stress-releasing hormones called cortisol and adrenaline to give an energy boost for a fight or flight response. The body prepares itself in stressful situations so that enough glucose is available in the body for energy. When the level of insulin falls, adrenaline levels rise, and cortisol levels rise. As a result, more insulin is produced by the liver, and body tissues become less sensitive to insulin. And insulin resistance is a major underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. Therefore, prolonged and chronic stress can be a cause of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Stress is a common emotion experienced by almost everyone. It is usual to feel stressed in difficult situations. This stress can be short-lived and situational. However, prolonged and chronic stress should never be neglected, as it can have several negative effects on your overall health and well-being. Surprisingly, stress affects all systems of the body, including the cardiovascular system, digestive system, reproductive system, musculoskeletal system, and even immunity. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to the signs of stress as soon as they appear and treat them immediately.