How does constant stress affect the body?
Stress doesn’t just suck for the mind, it also sucks for the physical body. Constant stress can affect the body, and not in the best way…
If you’ve read other some of my other posts, you know I frequently talk about the mind body connection. This connection is no different when looking at how stress relates to the body. Everything is connected, which some may think is a “bad” thing, but I actually think of it as a good thing. Because everything is so interconnected, we have so much power over our own healing.
Let’s look further at how constant stress affects the body and how we can change this to live our happiest and healthiest lives!
How does constant stress affect the body?
1. Physiological changes
When you’re “stressed,” physiological changes can actually occur in your body. Some changes can include an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and increased stress hormones such as cortisol being released.
This happens because when you’re stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight”. This makes sense and is useful if there’s a situation where you need to “fight or run” to protect yourself.
But this is supposed to be a response that only happens for a short duration. The problem occurs when your body and mind stay in a prolonged state of stress. Overtime, this can have a negative impact on your body. It’s not so much that we’re never supposed to experience stress, it’s that our body isn’t meant to handle stress that is continuous and constant. In regards to the changes in heart rate and blood pressure, prolonged constant stress can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular issues.
2. Muscle tightness
Muscle tightness might not be as scary as cardiovascular issues, but I’m guessing it’s still not something you want to deal with.
When we feel stressed, many of us tend to hold certain muscles tight. The specific muscles that are held in a state of tension when stressed can change from person to person, but some common areas include the upper traps, the jaw muscles, and the pelvic floor muscles.
When a muscle is held in a state of tension for a prolonged time, it can become tight. Tight muscles throw off the balance in the musculoskeletal system of your body. If one muscle is frequently held tight, the opposing muscle may start to become weak. For example, someone with tight hip flexors may also have weakness in the opposing muscle, the glutes.
Muscle imbalances in the body may cause pain in some people and could possibly lead to injuries over time.
I also want to note that it’s not uncommon that people who experience chronic pain may have certain areas of muscle tightness that tend to get “tighter” when they are under high states of stress.
When we hold “tension” in our minds, like when we are under high levels of stress, we usual will hold tension somewhere in the physical body as well. But the good news is that we can learn to relax our physical body by learning to calm the mind. The connection between the mind and body work both ways.
3. GI and bowel issues
If you’ve ever heard of the gut-brain connection, it probably makes sense how stress can impact the GI (gastrointestinal) system and your bowels. The GI system responds to our emotions. For example, some people when upset may either eat more or may not want to eat. There was no change in how much food their stomach needed, but their appetite changed based on emotions.
Looking at bowel function, stress can cause changes in bowel habits. In some people, high levels of stress may cause either constipation or diarrhea.
Stress and anxiety can also worsen symptoms in those dealing with IBS (irritable bowl syndrome).
4. Weakened immune system
When under constant stress, your immune system cannot work as efficiently at fighting off things such as the flu or common cold.
Stress can also prolong your recovery time if you do get sick.
Learn to better respond to stress
We can’t avoid all stress in life but we can learn to manage stress more effectively and that’s really what it’s all about. Our bodies are made to handle stress in small doses, the problem occurs when stress is constant and drawn out. This is why it’s so important to have stress management techniques in place.
Learning not to sit with negative emotions for too long can really help in decreasing the length of your stress response. It’s ok to feel emotions that may cause stress such as sadness, frustration, or anger, but try your best to let these emotions pass in a timely manner. An emotion on it’s own doesn’t actually last very long. Our mind is what keeps that emotion going and drags it out. Knowing this may help you to let go of negative emotions quicker. I know it’s not easy but it will get easier with practice.
Yoga is so amazing at teaching you to stay in a centered state and not sway so much with the ups and downs.
There’s not one set way to manage stress and stress management will look different for everyone. This is why it’s important to take the time to find what helps you to manage your stress. This may be a learning process, but that’s ok! This is for the health of your body and mind so it’s important to do the work and find out what works for you.
Some ideas of common stress management techniques include yoga, talk therapy, gratitude practices, or connecting with loved ones. This list could be very long and like I said can be different for everyone.
My personal favorite technique for stress management is meditation. This is not because I’m a yogi, it’s because meditation is really effective at helping you down-regulate your nervous system. It brings you out of the “fight or flight” state and brings you back to rest and balance which is where you’re supposed to be living most of your life. It can also help to lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, which like we talked about before, all tend to be elevated when you’re stressed. If you are interested in meditation, know that it does take time and practice.
Check out this post if you’re interested in starting a meditation practice: Meditation Tips for Beginners
I hope you guys found this post helpful. You have the power to change and you have the power to decrease the stress you’re feeling. I’m not saying that it’ll be easy but you can do it!
I have many resources here on my blog and on my youtube channel about using yoga, exercise, and meditation for stress management.
You’ve got this!
Nall, Rachel. “How Stress and Anxiety Can Aggravate IBS Symptoms.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 30 June 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/ibs-c/stress-and-anxiety#Treating-the-stress-and-IBS-connection.
Pietrangelo, Ann. “The Effects of Stress on Your Body.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 29 Mar. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#Immune-system.
“Stress Effects on the Body.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body#:~:text=Chronic%20stress%2C%20or%20a%20constant,a%20toll%20on%20the%20body.