Stress and the Body, Part 2

Effects of Stress on the Body

In my previous post ,(Stress and the Body, Part 1) I talked about good stress and bad stress (distress). How does bad stress affect our bodies? Oftentimes, we experience:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Certainly, when you are under stress, mood is affected. You become restless, anxious, unmotivated, irritable or angry, and depressed. As a result you either overeat or have no appetite. You tend to withdraw socially and succumb to alcohol, smoking, or drugs.

If these effects continue for long periods of time, you’ll be under chronic stress, which if left unmanaged could cause harmful effects on the body.

When you are faced with an external stimulus or a stressor, as we mentioned last week, your brain will send signals to your body to either fight or flight. This fight or flight response is the body’s innate way of protecting itself from a perceived threat or harm. Soon, the nerves in our body will also be activated and chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream.

We will then start feeling warm because your heart is pumping rapidly and our eyes are fully alert. Somehow we don’t feel any pain at all too. It is because our body is preparing to flee or to fight. After responding to the stressor, our body starts to go back to its calm state.

Imagine being subjected to prolonged stressors, chronic stress. What effects would that have in our body?

The heart could not work too hard for too long. The hormones our bodies produce when we are stressed cause constriction or narrowing of the blood vessels which raises the blood pressure. If this is a constant occurrence, you are at risk of having a heart attack or develop heart problems.

The liver produces excess glucose or sugar in the body for a boost of energy when we are stressed. Unfortunately, the body cannot simply flush this excess sugar out of our system. It gets absorbed then we become at risk at developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Remember the chemicals our bodies release when we are stressed? When we are under stress all the time, Cortisol, may inhibit or stop our defense cells (white blood cells) from attacking invaders.  When that happens we are susceptible to viral infections.

Notice how your muscles tense up when you are stressed. Your jaws are clenched. The eyebrows are lowered and creates a crease on the forehead. Lips are pressed tightly. This tightening of the muscles causes headaches, back pain and body pains. If we don’t manage it well, we will be dependent on analgesics or even stronger pain medication.

For women, the menstrual cycle goes haywire when are so stressed. While the production of sperm may decrease in men. Worse, it may even cause erectile dysfunction.

According to recent studies, there is no evidence that singles out stress as the primary cause of cancer. However, when a person is subjected to distress for prolonged periods of time and copes with stress by drinking, smoking, have sleepless nights, makes poor food choices and avoids exercise, may contribute to the risk of developing cancer.

Whether stress can cause cancer or not, the choice is still yours to make. Would you allow yourself to be miserable, angry or depressed all the time? Or would you learn how to manage stressful situations and people and be able to live a healthier and longer life?

If you choose the latter, then read the third part of the Stress and the Body series.