What happens to your body when you’re stressed?

What happens to your body when you're stressed

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

- Hans Selye

In recent years it has become all too apparent how severe stress can affect our physical and mental health, and while your aches and pains may not seem to be at all connected to the stress in your life, research says otherwise. According to the United States of Stress 2018 report, chronic stress has become a national epidemic in America for all genders and ages, and we’re seeing similar statistics across the pond. This stress can affect the body just as easily as it can the brain, but how?

What’s going on inside?

In reaction to pressures at work, at home, and from other people, our nervous system tells our body to release stress hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones react to help us cope with the threat we feel we are facing, and this sometimes triggers a fight-or-flight response.

Why is stress bad?

Stress can actually be a good thing, as it helps us to stay alert and focused to get things done. Of course, this is assuming the pressure eventually releases and we can relax once again. If stress is ongoing, however, and our nervous system is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, our mind and body may start to feel the negative effects.

What parts of the body are affected?

Symptoms differ from person to person, but stress can often cause common ailments such as headaches, fatigue, and sleep problems, to name a few. Your brain deals with stress by dishing out servings of anxiety, anger, restlessness and depression, among other things. These mental changes can alter our eating habits and weight, and make us more socially withdrawn and unmotivated to exercise.

In other words, stress affects every aspect of our lives, and recognising the symptoms early can help you manage stress from the outset. Check out this list from the American Institute of Stress on the most common signs and symptoms of stress.

Here are a few important things to watch out for...

  • Breathing: Stress can affect your respiratory system, making you breathe harder and more rapidly to take in more oxygen.
  • Sickness: The cortisol released in our bodies can affect the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness.
  • Muscle Tension: Our muscles often tense up as a reaction to stress, the body’s natural way of protecting ourselves from injury. Long term tension can affect your posture and result in pain, stiffness and headaches.  
  • Blood Pressure: Stress can change your heart rate and affect your blood pressure, which is something to watch out for if the stress is sustained for a long period of time.
  • Mood Changes: The endocrine system also suffers, and as this system helps with regulating your mood, it can cause you to feel anxious or depressed.
  • Stomach Upsets: When we’re under stress, our intestines can stop absorbing as many nutrients from food, and can cause stomach pain, bloating, nausea and more.

How can you recognise stress?

When you are in the thick of it, stress seems endless. Often we don’t even realise how much this is affecting our body, and go straight to the quickest solution, taking medicine to fix our aches and pains when we should be taking a step back to consider the underlying cause. Having regular sessions where you check in with yourself can help; for example, a weekly walk, or a day where you sit down with a cup of tea, notepad and pen, and allow yourself to write several pages of unfiltered, unedited thoughts. This exercise can help you realise what is going on in your mind right now, and identify the main factors contributing to your stress.

Tips for dealing with stress

It’s normal to have a little stress in life, but if you find yourself chronically stressed or exhibiting any of the above signs, then it’s time to take stock of what’s going on with your mind and body. Here are a few things to try:

  1. Spend more time away from your desk doing fun and relaxing activities
  2. Work on getting a better night’s sleep
  3. Exercise regularly to lower your stress hormones
  4. Go walks to get more fresh air and enjoy time to think
  5. Find products that can help relax you (our De-Stress Balm is a great one to try!)
  6. Write down what’s causing you stress to release it
  7. Start a meditation practice to quieten your mind
  8. Design the de-stress ritual that works for you, using this blog post