What Does Stress Do To Your Body?

Stress isn’t always bad. 

Mild, infrequent stress can make us stronger and more resilient. Exercise is often uncomfortable, but the acute strain stimulates growth. Emotionally, challenges can help us develop our problem-solving skills and give us satisfaction and confidence when we overcome them.

However, severe, prolonged, or frequent stress can be highly destructive to the body. Chronic stress is closely associated with:

  • Gastrointestinal complications
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Inflammation
  • Immune system malfunctions
  • Memory and learning impairment
  • Depression and anxiety

Everyone experiences their unique circumstances of stress, but no one escapes it completely.

Acute Stress

What happens when you are confronted with a stressful situation?  

Immediately, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates the production of catecholamines (epinephrine/adrenaline), while the hypothalamus and the pituitary work together to stimulate cortisol secretion. Together, catecholamines and cortisol increase available energy by converting glycogen into glucose and promoting fat metabolism. 

This boost helps your brain and body react quickly by channeling energy to whatever area needs it most. Sometimes this means sending more blood to your arms and legs, preparing you to fight or run away. Sometimes blood and energy are pulled away from your limbs to protect your central, vital organs.

Digestion and the production of growth and gonadal hormones are paused because eating, growth, and sexual activity tend to be less critical during these stressful moments. 

The immune system is activated. The spleen and lymphatic tissues send out defensive cells to the areas expected to be exposed to injury or disease.

Chronic Stress

That acute stress response is crucial and can be life-saving in a dangerous situation. Still, if the stressors continue and the body cannot recover and restore equilibrium, the consequences can be extremely harmful. 

Your body moves blood and energy around by dilating and contracting different blood vessels. This constriction, combined with enhanced cardiac output, increases blood pressure. When this is sustained for too long, arteries can become damaged, and the organ tissues they supply can become compromised.

If your immune system is not relieved from its heightened state, it can malfunction and reduce its ability to heal wounds and manage infections.

Managing Stress

Try to notice and identify the pattern and triggers of your stress, and make sure you have healthy coping mechanisms to help you deal with it. 

Commonly used effective strategies include:

  • Deep breathing – Breath full, slow, and low in your belly.
  • Exercise – use up that excess energy to not induce anxiety or panic.
  • Relaxation – stretch out your muscles, release tension, and open up any blocked flows.
  • Meditation – bring your awareness to the present moment so you can release any worries or fears about the past or future, or distant events that don’t threaten you.
  • Therapy – talk through your feelings with a trained professional.

Don’t get discouraged when you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. This is an opportunity to discover more about who you are and how your mind and bodywork together.