Bodily reactions to stress
Physical Effects of Stress on the Body
In this Article
Stress affects us all. You may notice symptoms of stress when disciplining your kids, during busy times at work, when managing your finances, or when coping with a challenging relationship. Stress is everywhere. And while a little stress is OK -- some stress is actually beneficial -- too much stress can wear you down and make you sick, both mentally and physically.
The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of stress. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don't know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body's reaction to harmful situations -- whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as "fight-or-flight” or the stress response. During the stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. You’ve gotten ready to act. It is how you protect yourself.
Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. And, not all stress is bad. In small doses, stress can help you accomplish tasks and prevent you from getting hurt. For example, stress is what gets you to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of you. That's a good thing.
Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.
What Are the Symptoms of Stress?
Stress can affect all parts of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. So it is important to discuss them with your doctor. You may have any of the following symptoms of stress.
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
- Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
- Feeling overwhelmed, as if you are losing control or need to take control
- Having a hard time relaxing and quieting your mind
- Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), and feeling lonely, worthless, and depressed
- Avoiding others
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
- Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ears, and cold or sweaty hands and feet
- Dry mouth and a hard time swallowing
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Forgetfulness and disorganization
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgment
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
Behavioral symptoms of stress include:
- Changes in appetite -- either not eating or eating too much
- Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
- More use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
- Having more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing
What Are the Consequences of Long-Term Stress?
A little stress every now and then is not something to be concerned about. But ongoing, chronic stress can cause or worsen many serious health problems, including:
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and strokes
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Menstrual problems
- Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in men and women
- Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
Help Is Available for Stress
Stress is a part of life. What matters most is how you handle it. The best thing you can do to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that come with it is to know your stress symptoms.
If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor. Many symptoms of stress can also be signs of other health problems. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions. If stress is to blame, your doctor can recommend a therapist or counselor to help you better handle your stress.
© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Department of Health and Human Services: "Stress and Your Health."
American Institute of Stress: "Effects of Stress."
Helpguide.org: "Understanding Stress."
How Stress Levels Are Measured
In this Article
Maybe it’s your demanding boss, morning gridlock, or relationship problems with a friend or family member. Whatever the cause, it’s likely you experience some level of stress on a daily basis.
But while some day-to-day stress is normal (and can even be a good thing if it motivates you), chronic, overwhelming stress can have a negative impact on your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Knowing how to spot the signs and symptoms that you’re under too much stress can help you stay aware and address the issues before they harm your health.
You might be overly stressed without even knowing it. Maybe you have certain physical symptoms and blame it on an illness or other condition. But the truth is, stress itself can cause problems in your organs, tissues, and just about every system in your body.
Depending on how you handle stress, you might have symptoms that affect everything from your hormones to your heart, and more.
Some of the physical signs that your stress levels are too high include:
Pain or tension in your head, chest, stomach, or muscles. Your muscles tend to tense up when you’re stressed, and over time this can cause headaches, migraines, or musculoskeletal problems.
Digestive problems. These can include diarrhea and constipation, or nausea and vomiting. Stress can affect how quickly food moves through your system and the way your intestines absorb nutrients.
Reproductive issues. Stress can cause changes to your sex drive, problems with irregular or painful periods in women, or impotence and problems with sperm production in men. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you might also feel reduced sexual desire when you’re under too much stress.
Changes to your heart rate and blood pressure. When you’re overwhelmed with stress, your body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode, which triggers your adrenal glands to release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These can make your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise.
This usually happens when there’s a momentary stressor, and the effects pass once it’s over. For example, you might find your heart racing if you’re late for a meeting, but then it calms down once you’re there. However, over time, too many episodes of this kind of acute stress can cause inflammation in your arteries, which could be a contributing factor to heart attacks.
Mental and Emotional Signs
Stress can also affect how you think and feel, making it tough to get through your normal responsibilities and make rational decisions. In some cases, this kind of stress can impact behavior in other ways, and some people turn to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or other harmful substances to cope with their feelings.
Excessive stress may also affect your appetite, causing you to eat more or less than usual, and it may affect or eliminate your motivation to exercise and stay fit. Additionally, the feelings you get when you’re stressed may make you feel like withdrawing from friends and family and isolating yourself.
Some of the psychological and emotional signs that you’re stressed out include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Anger, irritability, or restlessness
- Feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or unfocused
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Racing thoughts or constant worry
- Problems with your memory or concentration
- Making bad decisions
When to Get Help
If you’re struggling with stress and don’t know how to cope, you may want to seek help from a specialist. Your primary care doctor can be a good starting point. They can help you figure out if the signs and symptoms you’re experiencing are from a medical issue or an anxiety disorder.
They can also refer you to a mental health expert and provide you with additional resources and tools.
Some of the signs it’s time to get help:
- Your work or school performance is suffering
- You’re using alcohol, drugs, or tobacco to deal with your stress
- Your eating or sleeping habits change significantly
- You’re behaving in ways that are dangerous to yourself, including self-mutilation
- You have irrational fears and anxiety
- You have trouble getting through your daily responsibilities
- You’re withdrawing from friends and family
- You think about suicide or hurting other people
If your stress has gotten to the point that you’re thinking of hurting yourself or someone else, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. You can also call one of the free suicide prevention helplines, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You don’t need to give your name.
© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
HelpGuide.org: “Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes.”
The American Institute of Stress: “Stress Effects.”
Mayo Clinic: “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Warning Signs of Emotional Stress: When to See Your Doctor.”
Stress and its impact on health » Medvestnik
In everyday life, the word "stress" is often used as a synonym for strong excitement, experiences. But this concept is much broader. Stress is the body's reaction to any irritating influences: problems at work, exams, hunger, lack of sleep, even fluctuations in atmospheric pressure. For many people, such stresses interfere with normal psychological, physical, and social functioning.
Long-term stress damages the body's self-regulation mechanisms and leads to subsequent disturbances in biorhythms. The natural cycle of sleep and wakefulness changes, as a result, efficiency and self-control decrease, memory and attention deteriorate. Daily fluctuations in the level of hormones, rhythms of breathing and heartbeat are also violated. Chronic stress weakens the immune system, suppresses protective reactions and barrier functions of the cells of the gastrointestinal tract and skin, which complicates the course and prognosis of any somatic diseases, including infectious ones [Aki Takahashi 1, 2, 3 , Meghan E Flanigan 2 , Bruce S McEwen 3 , Scott J Russo 2 Aggression, Social Stress, and the Immune System in Humans and Animal Models Front Behav Neurosci . 2018 Mar 22;12:56.
Alexandrovsky Yu.A., Chekhonin V.P. Clinical immunology of borderline mental disorders M.: GEOTAR-Media; 2005, 235 pp.].
As a result, stress increases the risk of the so-called "diseases of civilization" and contributes to their development: arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus, bronchial asthma, chronic pain, immune disorders, and many others [Hellhammer D. H., Hellhammer J. Stress: the brain-body connection / volume editors, Dirk H. Hellhammer, Juliane Hellhammer. Key issues in mental health, 2008, ISSN 1662-4874; p. 174].
The causes of stress in modern man are varied. They can be divided into three main groups:
- Significant life changes;
- Relationship difficulties. If some conflicts are normal, and from time to time this is a healthy characteristic of human relationships, then chronic and unresolved conflicts, which are characterized by relationship difficulties, are the causes of significant personal stress and pose a serious risk to the mental and somatic health of the patient [Duckworth A. L., Kim B ., Tsukayama E. Life stress impairs selfcontrol in early adolescence. Front . Psychol . 2012; 3:608];
- High risk working conditions. In an urbanized society, work can be a significant cause of stress for the employed population, as well as for their families, because the effects of work stress can be carried into the home environment. Workplace stress can lead to other outcomes (consequences), such as accidents, accidents, drug and alcohol problems.
The degree of health risk associated with these life events depends, in part, on life habits, coping strategies, and previous experience with preventive stress management practices. These factors significantly help offset the risks associated with stressful events.
The processes occurring in the body during stress are universal and the same for all people. When we are affected by one or another stressor, changes occur in the brain, the work of the endocrine and nervous systems. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream. They make you look for a way out of the situation, at the level of not only the brain, but the whole body. To cope with this task, all cells become excited. Some of them release a special substance - histamine, which can cause skin redness and itching. Muscle tissue cells begin to contract more actively, while a person has tachycardia or intestinal motility increases, and he has an irresistible desire to go to the toilet (popularly called "bear disease"). Someone has a reaction from the vessels: blood pressure rises, red spots appear on the body or face. Someone begins to sweat actively - this means that stress hormones have activated the autonomic nervous system. What kind of manifestations a particular person will have depends on his individual characteristics. In particular, from how he was taught to respond to stress in childhood. For example, a child whose mother had a headache against the background of excitement fixes this and, becoming an adult, gives the same reaction himself.
Another example could be given. In most cases, against the background of strong nervous tension, people lose their appetite - this is the effect of stress hormones. However, if the baby, as soon as he cried, was immediately given a pacifier, in the future he will most likely become, on the contrary, eating a lot under stress. Or, smoking. In general, calm down by occupying your mouth with something.
Thus, stress can be dangerous and becomes a problem when a person is out of control and has poor stress management.
But neither "bear disease", nor a moderate increase in blood pressure, nor even overeating on the background of stress should be considered a disease. In general, these are normal reactions, so there is no need to run to a gastroenterologist or cardiologist. Another question is if all these manifestations cause severe discomfort, disorientation. A person needs to answer the exam, but he unbearably wants to go to the toilet. You need to speak in front of an audience, and he is covered with sweat. Once having got into such a situation, a person fixes it, remembers bodily sensations. In the future, knowing that an exciting event awaits him, he begins to expect physical troubles, this gives rise to fear in him. And fear further enhances the release of stress hormones into the blood, and intestinal motility, palpitations, sweating come even faster. Each time the problem grows, and it becomes impossible to get out of this vicious circle on your own.
Of course, you shouldn't bring yourself to such a state. Someone smart said a funny phrase: if you don't know how to relieve stress, don't wear it. Do you feel that your stomach is twisted due to excitement or your entire back is wet? Do not fixate on this state, but try to get out of it as soon as possible. Very simple tricks help calm the nerves. Make a few swings with your arms or legs with a large amplitude, run a "hundred-meter race". Physical activity allows you to get rid of excess stress hormones in the blood, and bodily manifestations of excitement become less vivid.
It is also very important to increase the overall resistance to stress. By the way, this is not at all blissful calmness and indifference to stress, but the ability to adequately respond to it and recover. After the body has mobilized to solve a particular problem, each of its cells needs to rest, recover, otherwise it may simply die. To do this, she needs energy and the ability to properly spend and store this energy.
Energy enters the body only with food. The more balanced it is in terms of essential nutrients, as well as the so-called anti-stress components (magnesium, B vitamins, lecithin, iodine, omega, etc.), the higher the resistance to stress, and, consequently, the adaptation to environmental stress. Be sure to eat foods that are rich in these vitamins and minerals, or consume them in the form of food supplements. In order to better navigate the sea of various products yourself, you can look at the popular website of the international online platform for natural products for health and beauty - iHerb . Here is a huge selection of natural ready-made anti-stress formulas (more than 100 types of dietary supplements) that increase stress resistance and contain magnesium, selenium, PUFA omega-3 , B vitamins (thiamine, pyridoxine), vitamin C, probiotic systems that restore microbiota intestines, which increases the immunity of the whole organism, as well as herbal complexes for relieving tension and relaxation, restoring sleep, such as ashwagandha.
The use of these complexes will increase the energy potential of both the brain and each cell of the body, restore adaptive resources, as well as support immune activity during stress, and become resistant to various infectious factors. And the excitement will not unsettle you.
Stress is a protective reaction of the body
Stress is a protective reaction of the human body to anxiety, overstrain and various situations that threaten its normal life. Under stress, the release of blood bioactive substances and hormones . As a result, the level of excitation of the central and peripheral nervous system increases, and its mobilization occurs.
Stress determines the body's ability to adapt to difficult living conditions. With excessive stress of the psyche and physics, the body first tries to defend itself, and then adapts, and the reaction to excessive stress becomes optimal. Such a state of positive stress is necessary for human adaptation to the environment and normal mental development.
But the body is not always able to cope with mental and physical overload. And then any overexertion violates the natural state of a person and leads to illness. Stress can lie in wait for us everywhere, at home, on the road and at work. Such minor everyday stresses have become familiar to everyone. But in a more serious situation, its level increases significantly. It would seem that stress is designed to help us in difficult situations, but in fact, its consequences themselves become a source of problems for the body.
Paradoxically, stressful situations most often occur when they are not needed. If in animals stress occurs only at the moment of immediate danger, then in people with their developed system of verbal signals, stress arises when signals of danger are given from another person, in fact, from scratch. In blood releases hormones and glucose, additional forces are released that have nowhere to spend.
For a healthy person, a stressful situational reaction will not bring tangible harm, but will only develop in the body the ability to resist negative factors. But with a constant stress state, the body's reserves are depleted and, as a result, the body's defenses as a whole are reduced. In the fight against stress, the release of adrenaline increases, which starts at kidneys the process of converting glycogen into glucose, resulting in increased blood flow. Blood pressure rises, breathing quickens, the digestive process is disturbed. With a regular repetition of the release of adrenaline, disorders in the body become chronic.
Stress in itself is not a disease, it is a defense mechanism. But if the defense becomes chronic, the person becomes vulnerable to various diseases. There is a distorted distribution of the body's resources. For example, resources designed to fight the flu are spent on another stressful situation. As a result, a disease arises that could not have arisen. And this disease is also a certain stress for the body.
Stress doesn't go away without a trace. It will take a lot of time and effort for the functional recovery of the body and the accumulation of reserves. Moreover, after each stressful situation, the body makes an adjustment aimed at a worthy meeting of a new stress. This requires additional support for the body in the form of a recovery period.
And when our efforts are aimed at preventing this very stress, the manifestations of which we try to prevent in any way, the body is deprived of a recovery period. We have to resort to psychological compensation, which is often achieved by means unacceptable for the body and leads to new stress.
Many people see only a psychological component in stress, and do not pay attention to physiological changes in the body. Which leads some to reach for a glass or a cigarette to compensate for stress.
As a result, the body receives double harm. Being in a state of false well-being, we drown out the body's signals about the need to provide protection, and even poison it.