“Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune…Ongoing, chronic stress (can) cause or exacerbate many serious health problems.” – WebMD
Most of us accept the fact that stress is a certainty in modern society. We understand that, as we go about our day, we’ll almost certainly encounter a stressful situation. For many of us, we’ll have to contend with multiple stressors throughout the day. As we’ve discussed multiple times before, a bit of stress can be a good thing. It can motivate us to get things done and can serve as a powerful self-preservation agent. This aside, excessive stress levels experienced on a continuous basis can pose a serious threat to mental and physical health.
Of course, elevated stress levels are felt by the body. In a state of distress, the brain will release adrenaline and cortisol (aka, “the stress hormone”) into the bloodstream. Under normal circumstances – and in the presence of a real threat – this hormonal response enables us to “(curb) functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation.” In other words, we can proactively deal with the threat in such circumstances.
Overexposure to adrenaline and cortisol hormones, however, can adversely impact nearly every system within the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, overexposure to cortisol from too much stress increases the risk of numerous health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
In this article, we discuss eight of the most common physical effects of too much stress. We’ll also provide some tips on how to effectively cope with stressors in our lives.
First, here are the eight physical signs of too much stress:
The Mayo Clinic states that headaches are more likely to occur when we’re stressed. Furthermore, stress is the number one cause of tension headaches. The most common type of headache, tension-type headaches can “cause mild, moderate or intense pain in your head, neck, and behind your eyes.” Stress can both create and exacerbate other types of headaches, including migraines.
2. Digestive problems
When the brain opens the hormone floodgates, the digestive system undergoes a kind of initial “shock.” Medical experts have uncovered an intricate connection between the brain and digestive system, which helps to explain why stress can cause a number of digestive problems to surface. Chronic stress can also worsen certain conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
3. Frequent colds and infections
Stress causes our circulatory system to kick into overdrive (due to increased heart rate). This physiological effect, in conjunction with a rise in blood pressure, can suppress the immune system. Of course, this weakens the immune system’s ability to seek out and neutralize illness-causing bacteria and other agents.
4. Weight gain
Although stress reactions are more commonly associated with weight gain, a minority of individuals experience fluctuating weight – and even weight loss. That said, elevated levels of cortisol “has been shown to up appetite, drive craving or “junk” food, and make it (easier) to accumulate belly fat.”
5. Stomach issues
As mentioned, stress reactions can throw the digestive system through a loop. Relatedly, stomach problems are among the most commonly cited symptoms of those with high stress levels. Nausea, indigestion, cramps and aches are all potential stomach-related problems resulting from a stress reaction.
Emotional, mental and physical stimuli can cause stress that interrupts our body’s normal functioning. The presence of stress increases pressure and tension levels within the body, which makes it more prone to fatigue, also potentially manifesting into mental or physical exhaustion.
7. Chest pain or palpitations
Stress creates anxiety, and anxiety creates stress. This frustrating mental cycle can cause chest tightness and/or pain. Additionally, chest pains are often frightening experiences – and this reaction further exacerbates the stress/anxiety that is present.
Chronic stress is itself a risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. Recent research studies have also linked stress and the mechanisms for blood clotting, which can cause moderate to severe heart problems.
8. Loss of sex drive
For both men and women, the desire to engage in sexual intercourse can be hampered by stress. The simple reason is that stress hijacks chemicals in the brain responsible for stimulating sex drive. Chronic stress can lead to problems in ovulation for women and lowered sperm count and fertility in men.
Stress Coping Tips
While stress may be an unavoidable fact of life, there are plenty of ways to lessen its effect on our minds and bodies.
According to WebMD, some of the best ways to counteract stress include:
– Writing for 10 to 15 minutes a day about stressful events and their effects. This helps to organize our thoughts and may promote stress relief.
– Talking to family, friends, or a professional about your stressful feelings is a healthy way to relieve them.
– Doing something enjoyable, such as a hobby, creative activity, or volunteer work.
– Focusing on the present by practicing meditation and guided imagery.
– Exercising regularly, which is one of the best ways to manage stress. Stretching can reduce muscle tension, which is a byproduct of elevated stress levels.
– Practicing breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and yoga can help relieve stress.
– Getting a massage, trying aromatherapy or music therapy.