Stress manifests when someone experiences excessive levels of emotional or mental pressure. This emotional or mental pressure creates distress – a harmful psychological state that can damage both mind and body. When you feel overstressed, you reach a hypersensitive state that makes you unwell, physically and mentally.
It is not hyperbole to say that stress can kill you. This fact and the near-universal presence of stress in daily life do not bode well for individual and public health.
Statistics The Reveal an Overstressed Society
Consider some of these alarming statistics:
- 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.
- 73% of people regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.
- 33% of people feel “they are living with extreme stress.”
- 48% of individuals report lying awake at night due to stress.
- 48% of people cite stress as harming their personal and professional lives.
The human body consists of 78 organs in total, divided into thirteen “major” organ systems. Of all organs, five are vital: the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs. Why do we mention this? Because stress negatively affects them all, particularly the vital organs.
This article discusses stress’s impact on ten major organ systems. We’ll also provide some practical ways of destressing the body and mind (including the organs, of course)!
This Is What Happens To Your Body When You Feel Overstressed
“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important.” – Natalie Goldberg.
1. An Overstressed Cardiovascular System
The cardiovascular system consists of our heart and blood vessels and is a potentially life-threatening target for chronic high stress. Cardiovascular disease accounts for approximately 610,000 deaths every year in the United States – or 1 in every four fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is the leading cause of death for men and women.
Moreover, research continues to link cardiovascular disease and stress. The presence of stress, particularly combined with other risky behaviors (e.g., smoking, alcohol abuse), is thought to increase one’s risk drastically to this disease.
2. Nervous System
The brain and spinal cord are “the central division “ of the nervous system. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) “has a direct role in physical response to stress); which is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Stress starts ends and everything in between within the brain. Stress initiates the “fight or flight” response. It releases stress hormones that spread throughout the body, causing “the heart to beat faster, respiration to increase, blood vessels in the arms to dilate,” and other side effects.
In short, chronic stress is not suitable for the brain.
3. Respiratory System
The bronchi, larynx, lungs, nose, pharynx, and trachea form the respiratory system. The brain’s fight or flight response causes one to breathe harder, sometimes to the point that one experiences hyperventilation.
In fact, panic attacks, a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety, are a common medical condition in those with chronic stress.
4. An Overstressed Musculoskeletal System
Our bones, joints, and muscles make up the musculoskeletal system. In fact, stress has a way of causing our bodies to tense up. In an acute state, this tension releases, and “that is that,” as they say. However, chronic stress “causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness;” chronic painful conditions and musculoskeletal disorders can manifest in this state.
5. Reproductive System
Our reproductive system encompasses the gonads, accessory organs (e.g., prostate, uterus), Genitalia, mammary glands, and genital ducts (male).
For both men and women, the nervous system influences the reproductive system. In men, the ANS produces testosterone and activates the sympathetic nervous system to create arousal. Stress adversely affects women across various functions: menstruation, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause, and sexual desire.
During times of stress, the brain releases cortisol. Over time, this may disrupt the normal function of anatomic reproductive components.
6. An Overstressed Endocrine System
The adrenals, hypothalamus, pancreas, parathyroid, pineal gland, pituitary gland, ovaries, testes, and thymus make up the endocrine system.
Once again, the brain initiates the release of stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine, via the hypothalamus. The adrenals near the kidneys produce cortisol and epinephrine; this heightens the body’s stress awareness levels.
The liver produces glucose during the abovementioned process, which generally provides aid during fight or flight mode. However, this excess blood sugar could lead to Type 2 diabetes in vulnerable demographics, including the obese and some races (e.g., Native Americans).
Thus, managing stress is vital to maintaining an average blood sugar level. Besides that, you will potentially avoid diabetes in certain situations.
7. Integumentary System
This system includes the hair, nails, and skin. The integumentary system plays an essential role in maintaining the body’s equilibrium, “including protection, temperature regulation, sensory reception, biochemical synthesis, and (nutrient) absorption.”
You must also maintain your other internal systems for the integumentary system to function correctly. Stress disrupts the routine operation of this system. As a result, one may experience decreased blood flow to the skin, skin inelasticity, destabilization of glandular functions, and disrupted tissue restoration.
8. An Overstressed Digestive System
The digestive system includes primary organs – the esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines; and accessory organs – the rectum, appendix, gallbladder, and pancreas.
Consuming more food, alcohol, and nicotine can result in acid reflux or heartburn. In fact, this is a common problem for those with chronic stress. Stress also increases stomach sensitivity, which can worsen the symptoms mentioned above.
Chronic stress may lead to severe stomach pain, ulcers, and other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Final Thoughts: Here are three ways to combat stress!
- Managing stress properly is essential to preventing and treating any actual or potential medical conditions. Below are some effective methods of stress reduction, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).
- Lifestyle changes: stress reduction and positive changes to one’s lifestyle are inseparable. Improving overall health and managing stress is often accomplished by regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, and avoiding excessive alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco consumption.
- Relaxation methods: UMMC is an academic institution with an acute focus on relaxation methods and alternative therapies. Their recommendations include acupuncture, deep breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation, massage therapy, and biofeedback.
- Herbal remedies: These include aromatherapy or the consumption of valerian – an herb with soothing qualities. Also, consider trying kava – a root that effectively reduces anxiety and stress. (Note: herbal therapies are not well-tolerated by all. Past and current medical history, herbs, supplements, and other homeopathic medications may cause serious side effects. Of course, it is advisable to consult with a physician or schedule a physical examination.)