Stress is our constant companion in this fast-paced world. It is an unwelcome guest that stays and disturbs our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It is vital to understand the effect that stress has on our body to completely assess and address our overall health, happiness, and well-being. This blog is a deeper dive into the relationship between stress and the human body. We will also uncover the main reasons behind the existence of persistent stress. We will also address how these stress hormones affect our body and mind in the short term and the long term. Let us begin understanding the complex interplay of stress and the ways it impacts our body.
Our Body’s Response to Stress
What Happens to Your Body When You Are Stressed?
The human body is designed to cope with most things that come its way until it can’t. When experiencing stress, the human body begins a complex physiological response called the “fight or flight” response. This is a coping mechanism of the brain that is designed to help you survive. Upon experiencing stress, the Amygdala (emotional control center) signals the hypothalamus which in turn triggers a cascading effect. The adrenal glands release adrenaline that increases your heartbeat and puts all defense mechanisms at high alert.
Essential and vital organs like the heart begin to beat faster, Muscles begin to tense up and become ready for action and the blood pressure increases to supply oxygen to vital organs. Non-essential functions like digestion are put to the back seat and begin to slow down. The body prepares you for an unfavorable situation.
While stress can be a good thing when experienced in short bursts, long-term persistent stress can cause the body to break down and lead to health issues. It is vital to understand the process of how stress affects our body, in order to maintain our well-being.
What Hormonal Changes Occur During Stress?
The onset of stress initiates a sequence of physical and hormonal changes inside the human body. The brain begins to release certain hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline begins to elevate the heartbeat and improves focus. Cortisol is responsible for maintaining these heightened responses. The body begins to prioritize among body organs. The heart, vital responses, lungs, etc are prioritized while non-essential things have to wait.
Types of Stress and the Impact on the Human Body
Stress can be divided into 2 broad spectrums, short-term, and long-term. Short-term stress or acute stress is a natural response of the human body to the immediate challenges at home. Acute stress is particularly beneficial in short doses but adversely affects the body when it becomes chronic. Chronic stress is the other name for long-term stress and when sustained over a certain period, can cause several health issues. It is essential to understand the impact that these stress types have on our bodies.
What is Short-term (Acute) Stress?
Short-term stress is our body’s response to immediate threats. It initiates the “fight or flight” response that prepares for immediate action. When the threat is gone, things get back to normal. If the stress extends beyond this period but doesn’t become chronic, it can have the following side effects:
What are the 10 Negative Short-Term Effects of Stress?
Prolonged acute stress can cause various short-term health disturbances. The 10 most common health problems that originate from short-term stress are migraines, mood swings, digestive problems, sleep disturbance, overeating, immunity weakness, fatigue, headaches, emotional turmoil, and increased heart rate.
What is Long-term (Chronic) Stress?
Stress that persists for a long duration of time is termed long-term stress or chronic stress. Such stress begins to show scars on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of a person. Extended exposure to cortisol (Stress hormone) can cause severe chronic inflammation. Severe health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease all find their roots in chronic inflammation. More severe disabilities like Alzheimer’s and dementia are also linked with chronic inflammation.
Otherwise, in its initial stage, long-term stress is known to cause pain, digestive problems, and a weakened immune system. Extended exposure to such stress can cause cognitive dysfunction and further exacerbate existing health conditions.
What are the 10 negative long-term effects of stress?
Chronic stress can be extremely taxing on your well-being. It can cause high blood pressure, weakened immune system, chronic inflammation, Migraines, Mental Health Problems, increase in weight, Sleep disorders, reduced libido, menstrual irregularities, and exacerbation of existing health conditions.
What can stress do to a woman’s body?
The effect of stress on women is different from that on men. In fact, stress is more dangerous for women than it is for men since they are prone to all the dangers of stress that men face and much more. Stress can disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle leading to disturbances in time and flow. Chronic stress is also notoriously responsible for exacerbating Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms. This increases the physical and emotional discomfort associated with menstruation.
Stress is a key reason why women may find it difficult to conceive since it can affect both fertility and reproductive health. Chronic stress can decrease the chances of conception since it leads to unregulated changes in the frequency of ovulation. Women can often find it difficult to maintain a healthy and satisfactory sexual life since it also affects their libido.
In the case of pregnant women, increased stress levels can increase the risk of complications. The complications include premature birth and low birth weight. Prolonged exposure to cortisol can harm the developing fetus.
Additionally, women post-menopause can find it extremely difficult to cope with the other problems that come with stress. All menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings are elevated.
Women should therefore try to minimize these negative effects and prioritize their well-being by incorporating stress management techniques.
Symptoms of Stress
Understanding and recognizing stress requires a precise understanding of physical and emotional symptoms. Here are a few symptoms to recognize stress:
Pysical Symptoms of Stress
- Tension in the Body: Muscles become tense, especially in the neck, shoulders, and back.
- Headaches: Headaches and migraines become more frequent.
- Increased Digestive Issues: Several issues like indigestion, diarrhea, and even constipation may begin to be common.
- Fatigue: There’s a constant feeling of tiredness and the body never comes to rest even after a full night’s sleep.
- Sleep Disturbances: There can be disturbances in sleeping patterns including facing difficulties in staying asleep and falling asleep.
- Changes In Eating Habits: Stress can cause a significant loss or gain in appetite. It may also initiate the shift to comfort foods.
- Significant Increase in Heart Rate: Stress can lead to an increase in heartbeats and palpitations.
- Weakened Immunity System: One can witness frequent colds and infections as a result of chronic stress.
Emotional Symptoms of Stress:
- Persistent Irritability: Stress can cause frequent irritability. This in turn will cause loss of temper.
- Development of Anxiety: Excessive worrying, restlessness, and feelings of uneasiness are all symptoms of high stress.
- Strong Signs of Depression: Long-term stress can lead to persistent sadness, hopelessness, and even clinical depression.
- Never-Ending Negative Thinking: Another major symptom of stress is that it causes a pessimistic outlook in life and develops persistent negative thoughts.
- Increase in Mood Swings: Sudden shifts in moods become common. The brain struggles to settle down and causes frequent shifts in moods from anxious, to happy, to sad, and to calm.
- Evident Social Withdrawal: When under stress, people tend to isolate themselves from friends and family. They also avoid social gatherings.
- Finding it Difficult to Concentrate: Chronic stress incapacitates a person and takes away their ability to focus and concentrate on a subject for a long time.
- Difficulty in Maintaining Memory: Chronic Stress can cause the brain to lose some of its memory and cause forgetfulness.
It is important to understand and recognize the physical and emotional symptoms of stress. When experiencing several signs of chronic stress over a prolonged period of time, it is essential to pursue stress management techniques. If and when necessary, Professional help must also be taken.
How to Handle Stress Effectively
When faced with stress, long-term or short-term, it is crucial to recognize its symptoms and then pursue optimal stress management techniques. Here is how stress can be managed and handled professionally:
What is the First Step to Handle Stress?
The first step in handling stress is awareness. Recognizing and accepting the presence of stress and acknowledging your emotional and physical responses is crucial. Being aware helps you in taking the necessary steps toward handling stress effectively.
What Are the Healthy Ways of Dealing with Stress?
There are several ways of stress management that can be termed as healthy. This includes several methods like exercising, relaxation methods, deep breathing, meditation, seeking social support, and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. Getting rid of stress also requires you to engage in physical activities that you like to enjoy, set and achieve realistic goals, and ensure adequate sleep.
How to Deal with Chronic Stress?
Chronic Stress, also known as long-term stress, requires you to follow long-term coping strategies. This may occasionally require seeking professional medical help, such as therapy and counseling. Other important changes to make are lifestyle changes like eating habits, regular exercise, and sleeping habits. Following these steps for a long time will prevent stress from doing any further damage.
Stress has become an inevitable part of our daily lives. Understanding the impact of stress on our body and on our mind is crucial for us to address the symptoms. Even-though, short-term stress can be beneficial occasionally, stress is something that should be avoided. It can cause headaches and anxiety. Long-term stress, or chronic stress, on the other hand, can be a devastating thing for the body. It can weaken the immunity system, cause chronic inflammation, and lead to the development of other long-term health issues.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress is the first healthy step toward proper handling of this chronic disease. Understanding the unique ways in which stress affects women, is also essential. Stress severely affects the body and can cause it to gain or lose weight, lead to the development of anxiety and depression, cause frequent and unstable mood swings, etc. In today’s fast-paced world, chronic stress can be extremely harmful. The treatment requires taking proactive steps towards mitigating the negative effects of stress.