Understanding The Effects Of Stress On The Body

Many people, myself included have to deal with stress regularly.
There can be many reasons for this.
In this millennium, stress may turn out to be the number-one threat to health and well-being.
This is because levels of stress are ever on the increase in our society, and we recognize that the effects of chronic stress are broad and deep.

Emotional strain is the response that the human body provides when it is met with circumstances that induce it to behave, alter, or modify in some manner to maintain their comfortable state of balance.
It is a way of reacting to a challenge and getting prepared to face tough situations with concentration, determination, and strength in a state of total alertness.

So stress is the body’s natural response to a demand.

The demands may be physical, mental, or emotional, and when we place these demands on our body, chemicals and hormones like Cortisol and Neuropeptide Y are released into our bodies, and then we feel stressed.

A positive or negative experience can cause this reaction, but people typically associate emotional tension with bad experiences.
When something is putting emotional tension on the body, chemicals like adrenaline will be released into the blood to give the body more strength and energy to deal with these new demands.
This is a positive thing when you need the extra leg up, but over time, this can put a toll on the body.
If you do not have an outlet for this extra energy, stress can cause adverse emotional and physical effects.

There are different types of stress. Each of these can cause a mixed reaction.
Narrowing down what is making you stressed can help you deal with these issues more effectively.

Types of stress

Chronic stress is harmful to your body, mind, and spirit.

You’ve probably heard that stress can raise your blood pressure, increasing the likelihood of a stroke in the distant future.
A large percentage of visits to a primary care physician were stress-related disorders.

Chronic stress can interfere with the normal function of the body’s immune system.
And studies have proven that stressed individuals have an increased vulnerability to catching an illness and are more susceptible to allergic, autoimmune, or cardiovascular diseases.

Much of the stress we feel is mental stress.

That is the stress that we have brought about ourselves.
Even though there are outside influences at work, your mind takes these and turns them inward, often creating pressure.
It is our perceptions that contribute to creating stressful situations.
Some experts say that a certain amount of stress is helpful to the body.
But when the pressure starts to become too much, we begin to feel it.

Type A personalities are most susceptible to mental stress.
A type-A person is someone who is always on the go.
They are involved in everything and are moving at record speed.
Eventually, most Type A people come to a point where they need a mental and physical break.

Physical stress is sometimes called tension.
When stress is taken into the body and not released, it can transform into many different ailments.
Stress settles into our muscles and causes muscle aches or cramps.
When we are tense, we tighten our muscles.
When we do that over time, we get stiff muscles, such as a stiff neck.

The body needs to release some of the built-up tension.
Exercise is a great stress reducer.
Here are some physical activities that you can do to help eliminate stress build-up.
Be sure to check with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Below are some ways to categorize stress.

Emotional Strain-

When things around you like social pressure, crowding, or difficulties at work start impacting you, it can cause stress.
These emotional stressors can cause tension that may start to manifest itself physically over time.

Internal Stress-

This is the stress that occurs when you are trying to plan or manage responsibilities in your life.
This can be made worse if you are worrying about things that you cannot control.
Internal stress can make you feel hurried or tense, even in situations that should not be stressful.

Fatigue or Overworking Stress-

If you have been putting in more effort into your job, school, or tasks around the home, than you have energy or time for, it can cause stress.
If you do not know how to manage your time so you can incorporate downtime into your schedule, the stress of trying to handle your responsibilities can begin to take its toll.
This type of stress can be linked to other kinds of pressure as well.

Survival Stress-

This is known as the classic “fight or flight” response.
If you feel like something could cause you physical harm, your body will provide you with a burst of extra energy that you could use to stand up to the threat or escape.
Adrenaline pumping activities like riding roller coasters use this type of stress as a means of entertainment.

You can read more about stress at WebMD “Stress Management Health Center.”

Top 10 Stress Producing Life Events

You may or may not feel the stress you have.
There are different types of stress.
Some things come to you from the outside (external stressors) and those tendencies and behaviors that originate within each of us (internal stressors).
Some stress is acute, and it is caused by a one- time situation and is over quickly.
There is also stress caused by recurring situations.
Many situations in life commonly cause stress.

Research has shown that several stress-producing events can happen in our life.
If you have experienced one of these events within the past year, you should consider taking some stress-reducing action.

If you have experienced more than one of these, you can be sure that stress is working within you, even if you are unaware of it.
Be prepared to make some changes so the stress won’t take its toll on you.

Here are the top 10 stress-producing life events:

1. The death of a spouse or partner
2. Divorce
3. Separation
4. Being Jailed
5. Death of a family member (parent, child, a close relative)
6. Major illness (diagnosis in past six months)
7. Marriage
8. Being fired from your job
9. Reconciliation with estranged spouse or partner
10. Retirement

Here are some additional stress-producing events:

  • Moving
  • Bankruptcy
  • Changing Jobs
  • Changing schools
  • Trouble with your boss
  • Problem with your marriage or relationship
  • Taking out a loan
  • Family Problems
  • Co-workers
  • Commuting
  • Parents
  • Household Problems
  • How much stress do you have?

Most people underestimate the amount of stress they face in their daily lives.
As a result, mental health experts have devised a test that looks at life changes to reveal not just how stressed you are, but how stressful many seemingly everyday events can be.

How can you determine how much stress you have?
While there is no such thing as a stress meter, there are specific clues you can use to see how much stress you have to deal with.
You can list all the things that you feel are causing you stress by taking a stress inventory.

Take a sheet of paper and list all the items (from the list below) that affect you.

Tiredness or fatigue
Sleep Difficulties
Overeating or Loss of appetite
Heart palpitations (racing)
Rashes, itching or hives
Muscle aches and pains
Lowered sex drive
Increased use of alcohol
Drug use
Use of medications
Anxiety or panic
Memory Lapses
Loss of concentration
Feeling depressed
Racing thoughts
Less socializing

These symptoms can be broadly grouped in Mental Symptoms (poor memory, confusion …), Emotional Symptoms (Anger, Anxiety…), Physical Symptoms (Chest pains, trembling…), Behavioral Symptoms (crying, nervous habits …)

If you have listed several of these, you are showing some signs of stress.
You may have some of these symptoms and have dealt with them for so long that they seem like the everyday norm.
Together, these symptoms may be masking a stress problem.

Stress is cumulative.

It can build up.
Sometimes it builds up to the point that it only takes a little thing to put you ’over the edge.’
That one small thing by itself would not have made such an impact.
But piled on top of many other stresses you can get the feeling that this is the last straw.
We’ve all heard the saying “that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” but stop and realize that it’s true.
Each stalk piled onto a camel’s back by itself is very lightweight.
But as they all add up, there will come a time when the combined weight is just too much for the camel to handle.
The same applies to our stress. As pressures add up, they become more significant than the individual stress itself.

These little stresses are sometimes called annoyances.
All of us get annoyed from time to time.
Annoyances cause stress.
Annoyances may seem minor, but they can add up and cause stress.

Many things in our daily life can add up to stress.
You need to find out what is adding to your everyday stress.
One great way to see how much stress you live with is to keep a stress diary.
(I’ll talk more about this in my next post)

A stress diary will help you become aware of what is causing your stress so you can learn ways to remove them.

Read more about the Holmes and Rahe stress scale on Wikipedia.

Effects of Stress On The Body?

Stress is a normal part of everyone’s life.
No matter who you are or where you live, everyone experiences stress.
But too much stress is harmful.
Stress can have a cumulative effect on the human body.

It is a chemical reaction in your body when you confront danger or feel danger.
Stress happens when your mind thinks something is threatening.
The body releases chemicals into the nervous system that sends it racing.
The heart pumps faster, and you breathe more quickly to take in more oxygen.
The body tenses up.
Your reflexes get sharper.
Your brain is preparing the body to deal with a dangerous situation.
Although our modern stresses come from many places, they are no less real to us than dangers were to our Stone Age human ancestors.

Doctors deal with stress-related problems every day.

While medications can sometimes help to lessen the symptoms, stress-related issues are best dealt with by getting to the root of the problem and eliminating it.

To better understand what stress is, it will help to know something about the human body.
When you sense a threat (either real or imagined), the communication systems within the body begin to activate.
The nervous system triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline.
These hormones are secreted into the nervous system and cause heightened arousal that increases the blood pressure and heart rate.
Hormones are also released into the system that prepares it for action.
They prepare the body for a quick response, getting the heart and muscles ready for action.

The hypothalamus

At the same time, the hypothalamus, a part of the brain, releases a substance that travels to the pituitary gland, which in turn triggers extra powerful hormones to be released into the bloodstream.
These responses occur simultaneously and almost instantaneously.
We feel the changes happen inside our body.
Our breathing becomes much more rapid.

You can get stress from a wide variety of circumstances.
Some stress is rapid and lasts a relatively short time.
This type of stress is usually quite intense for a brief time and then subsides.
This is the kind you experience when you have a close call, such as an accident or are involved in a fire or other disaster.
Your body reacts to an external situation and produces the typical responses.
This stress is mostly physical; that is, physical events bring it on.
This quick-type stress goes away quickly.
You do not accumulate physical stress in the body.

Other stress can be slow and long-term.

This stress can have cumulative effects on the body.
This stress may be more mental than physical.
That is; it is more a product of the mind than of any actual physical danger.
This is the type of stress that you may feel at work.
When people say they are ’under pressure’ at work, what that translates to is stress.
There are varying degrees of stress.

Many situations in life produce stress in varying degrees.
Some conditions affect some people more than others.
There are many stressful situations that people are unaware of as stress causing.
Raising children can be stressful at times.
Arguing with your spouse is stressful.
And we’ve all heard of ‘road rage.’
This is the stress caused by traffic situations.


Tension is stress that manifests in your physical being.
Some signs of tension include headaches, muscle spasms, jaw tension, and tight shoulders and neck.
Treat the physical symptoms as normal.
However, you need to get to what caused the tension and relieve it.

As you can see, stress can affect your health in many ways.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of how stress affects your body and health.
You may also suffer from hyperthyroidism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tooth and gum disease, ulcers, and even cancer.

Health Problems Caused By Stress

Health issues caused by stress range from mild to severe and acute.
Because the effects of stress can be cumulative, people often don’t think that stress is the cause of their problem.
Stress can cause many health troubles.
Even doctors may have a hard time determining that stress has played a part in the health situation.
That is why it is vital in all medical conditions that you help your doctor by enumerating any stressful situations you may be under.
Sometimes, the first real signal a person has that, they are stressed, is by the body showing it in physical illness.

The good news is, by reducing or eliminating our stress levels, we can combat these diseases, and occasionally, we can slow or reverse the effects of stress.
Once we learn to reduce our stress levels, our body will respond positively.
We can prevent, reverse, or slow down, many common illnesses by using stress control.
Once free from stress, the body once again functions as normal.
The long-term effects, however, are with us and may cause us problems down the road.
By learning to control stress, we can help our body maintain proper function.

Here are some common medical ailments that stress can cause directly or indirectly:

  • A headache
  • Sleep Difficulties
  • Tiredness or Fatigue
  • Overeating or Loss of Appetite
  • Heartburn or Sour Stomach
  • Backaches
  • Stiff Neck
  • Colds or the Flu
  • Pain in the Jaw
  • Panic Attacks
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Elevated Blood Pressure
  • Raised Cholesterol
  • Heart Disease
  • Immunity

Scientists have found that people, who are stressed out just, can’t seem to marshal the forces in their immune system to fight off infections.

You can measure this by how many antibodies you can produce.
The more stress you have, the more difficult it is for your body to make these immune system soldiers.
Experts also think that people with weak immune systems caused by high-stress hormones are much more likely to be infected with viruses