6 Ways Stress Can Make A Healthy Body Sick

Stress affects just about everyone in their daily lives.shadow of woman in front of stopwatch background stress
Unfortunately, stress is not a benign thing. It can affect your body in ways that can have a long lasting impact on your health.

Here are some ways stress can affect your health:

The Effect Of Stress On Your Brain

Stress can cause you to lose your concentration and memory abilities. Whether this is psychological or physiological is not completely clear.

When you are under stress, parts of your brain associated with memory, such as the hippocampus, do not work well and you cannot turn short-term memory into long-term memory. You can also fail to concentrate on things you hear or things you are reading.

It isn’t clear whether this is a long-term effect or short-term effect; however, things like stress reduction techniques seem to be able to restore your ability to think.

Some research studies tend to show long-term on-going stress may produce proteins that may contribute to Alzheimer disease and dementia.

Continual stress tends to produce bad behaviors such as excessive alcohol consumption, over-eating and smoking. All of these behaviors in themselves may damage the brain by increased risk of stroke.

Studies involving rats show not only can stress kill off brain cells prevents the hippocampus from producing new cells. The hippocampus is one of the few areas of the brain that makes new cells.

Possible effects of chronic or long-term stress consist of irritability, anxiety, depression and anti-social behavior or social withdrawal.

The Effect Of Stress On Your Gastrointestinal Tract

human Gastrointestinal Tract illustration
Stress triggers the body’s fight or flight response so that epinephrine and norepinephrine are released from your adrenal glands.

One thing this phenomenon does is shunt blood away from the gastrointestinal tract and toward the muscles of the body as a way of gearing up to “fight or flee” from a real or imagined opponent. This can lead to a decreased blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, which translates into indigestion and poor uptake of nutrients.

Fortunately, this can be short-lived unless you live under situations of chronic stress. Then the GI system will be more permanently affected.

Stress has been shown to reduce the mucous production(colonic mucin depletion) which protects the stomach and intestine linings. This can lead to increased cancer risk, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), peptic ulcers, gastric inflammation, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) and other gastric afflictions.

The Effect Of Stress On Your Cardiovascular System

Cardiovascular System illustration
Stress causes the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which automatically raises your blood pressure and heart rate. This puts more stress on your heart and puts you at higher risk of suffering from hypertension-related diseases like heart failure, stroke, and heart attack.

These kinds of things do not happen overnight but if you suffer from chronic stress, the long lasting implications of heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure, and stroke are real possibilities, especially if you do not eat well or have a strong family history of heart disease.

The Effect Of Stress On Your Immune System

various pills and a thermometer
Excess stress also causes the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex.

Cortisol has many effects on the body but one of the main ones is that it suppresses the immune system. High levels of cortisol mean that you are at greater risk of getting colds and the flu and have a harder time healing from open sores, cuts, or wounds.

Cortisol can suppress several aspects of the immune system so you will find yourself sicker more often when under stress than you would be if you were under less stress.

The Effect Of Stress On Your Muscular System

muscular man straining at workout in a superman t-shirt
The flight or fight response causes muscles to tighten and contract for readiness to action. Continual stress tenses muscles so they cannot relax and rest. This leads to muscle aches and pain as well as headaches, neck pain, back aches and shoulder pain.

Stress actually is a pain in the neck.

The Effect Of Stress On Your Sexual and Reproductive System

old picture of woman holding hangman noose, poison, and pistol deciding which to use
For men, the initial effect of stress may be an increased sexual appetite due to increased testosterone production, however after a time that testosterone level begins to drop. The drop in testosterone may lead to erectile dysfunction or impotence.

Also there is an increased risk of infections in the urethra, prostate, and testes.

For women, chronic stress may weak havoc on their menstrual cycle. Symptoms may range from little or no flow to excessively heavy, irregular and more painful menstruation. Menopause complications may be increased as well.

Things You Can Do To Reduce Stress

couple setting on grass looking at an ocean
Because stress can wreak havoc on your body, you need to do what you can to lessen the stress on your life so you can remain healthy. Sometimes it is just a matter of reducing the things in your life that are major sources of stress.

It might mean getting out of a stressful relationship, getting your finances in order or changing your job situation so you do not go to work each day with stressful feelings.

If you cannot change your circumstances, you may want to practice stress-relieving techniques. These include things like meditation, Tai chi, yoga, and Qi gong.

These activities can be easily learned through attending classes at a local health club or buy purchasing a DVD that will teach you ways to reduce the amount of stress you perceive in your life so you can live a healthier life.

Another great way to reduce stress is to take a vacation, or spend time in nature that naturally calms the mind, body, and spirit. Find some way to relax.

Take care and be well,
Tommy Douglas

Photo Credits:
GastroIntestinal System, Thoracic cavity.Blausen.com staff. "Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine.C BY 3.0, via Wikimedia

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