Due to the mind-body connection, almost everything we encounter in a day affects both. From never-ending to-do lists at work, to running errands at the end of the day, our everyday lives are full of stress. Even the smallest of tasks can be daunting and overwhelming when you’re run down.
If you struggle with stress, you are not alone. However, if you feel like your stress is affecting your mental and physical health, it may be signs that it's becoming too much. There are many ways that stress can impair our body’s ability to function. So how do we recognize those signs?
What is Stress?
Stress is a physiological response to challenges or threats, which evoke our fight-or-flight instincts. This kind of response is an instinctual connection from your brain, telling your body whether you should fight or run to protect yourself when facing a stressor. Our bodies are constantly trying to find a state of balance, also known as homeostasis, so constantly being in fight or flight mode can have some serious consequences.
There are different types of stress we can experience in our lifetime, and can typically be narrowed down into three categories. You can experience acute stress, which is short-term and usually triggered by being nervous about an event or preparing for an exam. You can also experience chronic stress, which is more long-term, like worrying about finances. Then you can experience eustress, a positive type of stress that comes with breaking out of your comfort zone, but in a good way.
What Does Stress Do to The Body?
According to the American Psychological Association, long-term stress can result in heavy influences on major body systems like respiratory, nervous, and cardiovascular. Stress can also have a big impact on our overall mental health as well.
For the respiratory system, shortness of breath and rapid breathing are common physical symptoms of stress. This is often referred to as a panic attack, and can even lead to asthma attacks. Additionally, if you experience chronic stress it can also deplete your immune system's ability to fight off diseases. This means common colds, the flu, and covid could become more detrimental, depending on the person.
During the stress response, your body will pump adrenaline into your bloodstream to spread throughout your body. This makes your heart and other vital organs go on high alert, causing the cardiovascular system to take a major hit. When adrenaline pumps through your body too often, it can cause damage to your arteries and blood vessels, resulting in high blood pressure. This also puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Additionally, as mentioned previously, when our bodies experience stress, we are constantly trying to reach homeostasis. However, the more stress relief your nervous system has to provide, the less effective it becomes. This can not only break down your body, but also your mind, leading to anxiety and depression.
What Can You Do to Help?
Setting health goals and incorporating lifestyle changes, however big or small, can improve your stress levels. Start by getting the right amount of sleep, eating a balanced diet, and making time for yourself. If you feel you need more stress management, speak with a professional.
Source: Shonna Waters (2023) How Does Stress Affect the Body?
Source: American Psychology Association (2023) Stress Effects on the Body
Source: American Psychology Association (2023) How Stress Effects Your Health