Stress Effects

Stress is your body’s way of protecting you during dangerous situations. When you feel threatened, the flight-or-fight response is triggered to help you either run away from or fight off the perceived threat. During the stress response your body reacts in the following ways:

  • Blood pressure rises
  • Heartbeat increases
  • Muscles tighten
  • Respiration quickens
  • Senses sharpen.

These changes help you focus and react quickly to deal with danger. When your life is threatened, the stress response can mean the difference between life and death. However, when your body is exposed to continuous high levels of stress, health problems may ensue.

Effects of Stress: Digestion

One of the first noticeable effects of stress on health is digestive distress. Stress affects the muscles of your intestines and can cause:

  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea.

Over time, stress may lead to an increased risk of conditions such as heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even ulcers.

Effects of Stress: The Endocrine System

One of the effects of stress is the stimulation of the liver to raise your blood sugar, giving you more energy to help you survive an emergency. While this is fine in the short term, elevated blood sugar over an extended period of time–combined with ongoing stress–may increase your risk of becoming diabetic.

Effects of Stress: Immunity

When you experience stress during a short period of danger, the fight-or-flight response includes a boost to your immune system. In the long term, however, the effect is exactly the opposite, with the immune system not working at its full capacity.

With a weakened immune system and ongoing stress, these health problems may occur:

  • Slow healing of cuts and bruises
  • Susceptibility to colds and other infections
  • Worsening of skin conditions like acne, eczema and hives.

Effects of Stress: Cardiovascular Health

Since stress increases your heart rate and raises blood pressure, it can lead to a number of serious cardiovascular problems over the long term, such as:

  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Increased risk of heart attack and heart disease
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Narrowing of the arteries.

Other Effects of Stress on Health

If you’re exposed to ongoing stress, other health problems may develop, such as:

  • Back, neck or shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Impaired memory and learning capacity
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of having a child with allergies or asthma if you’re stressed during pregnancy
  • Menstrual irregularities.

Resources

Barr, N. (2010). What stress does to your body. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.marieclaire.com/health-fitness/news/articles/stress-effects-body

Help Guide. (2010). Understanding Stress. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm#effects