top of page

5 Ways Stress Affects the Body

Stress has many effects on the body. It can lead to many physical ailments such as insomnia, headaches, and muscular pain. Stress can also lead to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.

With so many physical and mental side effects, it is important for everyone to take steps to calm the mind and body on a consistent basis. One way to do this is by meditating, as meditation has been shown to reduce stress and promote better health. If you're interested in meditation you can get five free guided meditations here that I use with my functional stress management clients.

What is Stress?

Stress occurs when the body perceives a threat. This triggers the fight-flight-or-freeze response, which prepares the body to either fight, run or freeze. The body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase heart rate and blood pressure, and they also boost energy. The fight-flight-or-freeze response is meant to protect the body, but it can take a toll. When the body is constantly in a state of stress, it can lead to problems.

Stress can affect the body in many ways. It can cause headaches, muscle tension, and an upset stomach. It can make it hard to concentrate or make decisions. It can also lead to fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Stress can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which can further affect the body. When the body is constantly under stress, it can wreak havoc on the body's systems and weaken the immune system, making the person more susceptible to illness.

What are the Symptoms of Stress?

There are many ways that stress can affect the body, both physically and mentally. Some of the most common symptoms of stress include:

  • feeling overwhelmed or out of control

  • feeling anxious, irritable, or ‘on edge’

  • difficulty sleeping or concentrating

  • feeling physically tense or ‘keyed up’

  • increased heart rate

  • sweating

  • dizziness or light-headedness

  • gastrointestinal problems, such as indigestion or nausea

  • headaches

  • feeling that you’re not able to cope

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to take steps to reduce your stress levels.

Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems

There are a few different ways that stress can affect the body, but two of the most common ways are through the central nervous system and the endocrine system. When someone is stressed, their central nervous system is usually on high alert, which can lead to a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, and increased anxiety. The endocrine system is also affected by stress, as it can cause the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones can then lead to a variety of different issues, such as trouble sleeping, weight gain, and a weakened immune system.

Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems

The body's reaction to stress is the "fight-flight-or-fright" response. This response is a survival mechanism that occurs in response to a perceived threat. The body's systems work together to help the person escape from the stressful situation. The respiratory and cardiovascular systems are two of the systems that are most powerfully affected by stress in the initial stage of a perceived threat or stressor. Often the first thing people notice when they are stressed is a faster heartbeat which signals that the sympathetic nervous system is urging the body to prep for the stressor.

The respiratory system responds to stress by increasing the rate and depth of breathing. This increases the amount of oxygen that is delivered to certain of the body's cells. The cardiovascular system responds to stress by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure. This ensures that the body has enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the demands of the situation.

The body's reaction to stress can be beneficial in short-term situations. However, chronic stress can lead to health problems. Studies show that chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke among other cardiovascular diseases.

Digestive System

The digestive system is another body system affected by stress in the long term. Stress can lead to problems such as indigestion, heartburn, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome. When the body is under chronic stress and thereby chronically operating under the sympathetic nervous system, the digestive organs are deprived of nutrients as more blood supply is routed to large muscles and the brain to prepare for the stressor or what the body believes is a threat.

When the digestive system is stressed, it is unable to properly break down food and absorb nutrients. This can lead to weight gain or weight loss, as well as other problems such as fatigue and malnutrition. Stress can also make it difficult to have a bowel movement, leading to constipation or diarrhea.

Sexuality and Reproductive System

One way stress affects the body is by causing erectile dysfunction / impotence. When a man is stressed, his body releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone can interfere with the production of testosterone, which is necessary for sexual arousal. In addition, stress can lead to premature ejaculation and reduced sexual desire.

Another way stress affects the body is by impacting the menstrual cycle. Stress can cause irregular periods, missed periods, and even early menopause. In addition, stress can make PMS symptoms worse.

Studies show that stress can also affect fertility. When a woman is stressed, her body releases cortisol, which can interfere with ovulation. In addition, stress can make it more difficult to get pregnant.

Finally, stress can impact the health of sexual organs. Stress can cause the testicles to shrink and can make the penis less sensitive. In addition, stress can lead to vaginal dryness, which can make sex painful.

Immune System

Stress can take a toll on the immune system. When the body is stressed, it releases hormones that can suppress the immune system. This can make the body more susceptible to illness and infection. Chronic stress can also lead to inflammation, which can further weaken the immune system. Additionally, stress can cause a decrease in the production of white blood cells, which are the cells that help fight off infection. Finally, stress can lead to poor sleep, which can also make the body more vulnerable to illness.

What are the Consequences of Long-term Stress?

The physical effects of long-term stress on the body can be both serious and damaging. When the body is in a state of stress, it goes into survival mode, releasing a flood of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are designed to help the body cope with a short-term, life-threatening situation by giving us the energy and strength we need to either fight or flee. But when they are constantly released into the body day after day, they can have serious consequences.

Over time, the constant release of stress hormones can lead to several health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Headaches

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Memory and concentration problems

  • Sleep problems

  • Skin problems

  • Weakened immune system

  • Pregnancy complications

  • Psoriasis

The good news is that there are things you can do to manage stress and protect your health. Exercise, relaxation techniques, and stress management can all help reduce the physical effects of stress on the body!


bottom of page