Stress Symptoms and its effects have altered the outlook of our physical and mental health in the 21st century. 1 in every 3 persons reports to be under extreme stress, while more than 70% of the population is experiencing health issues caused by stress.
While stress is not a disease in itself; it is surely the primary trigger of disease for majority of people.
Now, stress symptoms and signs may not be evident immediately, yet it can slowly drift a person from perfectly healthy state towards chronic and serious conditions as heart disease and diabetes.
The kind of lifestyle that we embrace these days puts us under constant stress. That may lead you to wonder, “Is it good that I’m always so stressed? How does stress affect my body?”
Let’s try to take a look into it! In this post, you will find out stress symptoms, its effect on our body and mind and holistic measures of Ayurveda that you can take to manage stress. Let’s get started!
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What is Stress?
Stress! You must have the word a million times. Certainly, you would have used it yourself. You know what it’s like to be stressed, just like many other people around the world.
A dictionary definition is not necessary here. You’ve felt stress firsthand before now.
Stress is what you feel when you’re stuck in traffic or when you’re hard-pressed on a deadline. It is what you feel when a cruel-looking dog is on your heels, or when dinner is not near ready and your guests have started arriving.
Stress is what you feel when you’re having family troubles, or when you’re behind on the payment of your bills. It is what you feel when you’ve eaten something and it is giving you stomach troubles, or just when you’re sick.
Do you get the idea? We are faced constantly with stress symptoms. It could be in any form:
- Emotional Stress: like due to an overbearing boss, loss of a loved one, etc.
- Physical Stress: like when there is a physical threat, or you’re being chased by an angry dog.
- Chemical Stress: due to exposure to harmful chemicals, insecticides, poisonous substances in food, etc.
Stress Symptoms, Duration and Effects on Our Body
It is important to note the effects of stress on our body according to the time it stays in. In fact, time is a real determinant of stress symptoms.
This is because, stress when lives for short time could actually be beneficial for us. Let’s see how!
Short term Stress
Short-term stress is also known as acute stress. Just as the name implies, you only feel stressed for a short period. It is nature’s way of helping you deal with the situation.
Short-term stress is completely normal. Every once in a while, you will definitely experience it when you are exposed to stressors.
Stressors are things or situations that are capable of putting you under duress.
During an emergency, for example, you are under some stress till the situation is over. If you have a deadline pressing, you experience some stress also, till the task is completed.
You feel some stress and anxiety before a speech, but once it’s done, the stress goes off. If you fall ill also, your body will be under some form of stress till that illness is cured.
Effects of Short term Stress on our Body
These stressors cause you to release adrenaline, the emergency hormone. After a while, cortisol also joins in the game. The actions of these hormones cause the stress symptoms.
Generally, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure increases, and your body produces more sugar to give you more energy, among others.
Again, whatever changes occur in your body while you are exposed to these stressors is pretty normal. It is to help you cope with the situation.
After the stressors are removed, everything goes back to normal. Your heart rate is back to its normal rhythm, blood pressure comes back down. You’re back to yourself again.
That is how it’s supposed to be.
But what if these things don’t go back down?
For modern man, or woman particularly, things don’t always run as smoothly. In fact, it is proven that women are more likely to be stressed and get higher stress levels.
Blame it on combining work with parenting with social activities, etc and etc.
There is also the chemical stress from polluted air, food additives, GMOs, etc. We’ve not mentioned bills to be paid, loans to be settled, and more.
With our modern lifestyle, it seems we are constantly under a state of stress. The body thus keeps the stress response active (things never go back to the resting state).
And that is where the problem arises. When you’re in a constant state of stress for a long time, you can eventually burn out.
Not to talk of other serious health effects like weight gain, high blood pressure/hypertension, cardiac problems, etc.
That’s why when your body is constantly overworked, it will retire before it is your due retirement.
Now, we are going to talk about the long-term effects of stress on the body.
What does Cushing’s syndrome have to do with stress, you might ask? Wait till you learn what this syndrome is all about.
Cushing’s syndrome is the constellation of stress symptoms and signs caused by an excess of cortisol hormone. It is an extremely complex hormonal condition that involves many areas of the body.
You must have noticed the link now; excess cortisol. The same cortisol is culpable for the long-term effects of chronic stress. That cortisol is produced excessively and is what leads to Cushing’s syndrome.
The thing now is, for a person with Cushing’s syndrome, they are constantly under stress.
Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome
In fact, some of the symptoms are consistent with those of chronic stress. They include:
- thinning of the skin,
- weight gain,
- thin weak bones(osteoporosis),
- facial puffiness,
- cessation of menstrual periods(in women).
Causes of Cushing’s Syndrome
- Ironically, one of the most common causes of Cushing syndrome is the administration of “cortisol-like medications” for the treatment of diverse diseases.
- Excess production of cortisol by the adrenal gland as, for example, due to an abnormal growth of the pituitary gland, which can stimulate the adrenal gland
- A benign or malignant growth within the adrenal gland itself, which produces cortisol
- Production within another part of the body (ectopic production) of a hormone that directly or indirectly stimulates the adrenal gland to make cortisol
Stress Symptoms | Health Damaging Effects of Stress on Our Body
Every system of your body is affected in one way or the other by the action of the emergency hormone (adrenaline) and the stress hormone (cortisol).
Therefore, if these hormones are constantly around (particularly cortisol), they will constantly stimulate your body. This will definitely lead to problems in the long run. But how?
1. Stress and Hormonal Imbalance
Long-term, chronic stress will throw your hormones off balance.
If you recollect, hormones are a big part of the stress response. The adrenal gland releases hormones, and these hormones effect changes that help you cope.
But in this situation of perpetual stress, the hormones are constantly produced. Adrenaline and cortisol are released continuously. However, the biggest culprit for bad effects is cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol, for example, causes the release of more sugar for energy. With more sugar, insulin comes in to take care of that. If this happens consistently, your body will fail to respond to insulin anymore.
You become insulin resistant. The excess sugar causes you to store more fat in your abdominal area.
And the cascade goes on and on!
Every aspect of life is controlled by hormones, directly or indirectly. Therefore, a disruption in hormones will affect you all-round. Other symptoms of these hormonal imbalances are:
2. Stress affects your Menstrual Cycle
You may have already noticed delayed or irregular periods whenever you come across a stressful event. It could be exams for children, job interviews for adults or anticipation of any big event that is finally going to happen.
It is simply because when you are stressed then your basic need is to save yourself and not reproduction.
Stress hormone Cortisol exerts significant effect on function of Estrogen. It reduces the flow and production pathways of both Estrogen and Progesterone in women.
Hence, you end struggling with either low Estrogen due to which ovulation doesn’t occur. Or you end up with low Progesterone symptoms chronically, which eventually reduces the uterine lining leading to scantly flow.
If the stress stays for short time, it may lead to irregularity or delayed periods for that cycle. If it is chronic, then you may experience complete absence of periods.
This stress could be work pressure, family pressure, emotional pressure or physical pressure from excessive exercise. Whatever form of stress it may be, it will affect your menstrual cycle.
3. Stress and Blood Sugar Imbalance
As we established earlier, when you’re stressed, adrenaline and cortisol cause you to produce more sugar. That’s because your body assumes (and rightly so) that you need more energy to deal with the situation.
For example, if you need to run from gunshots, or stay awake all night to finish a project, you surely need more energy.
That’s what the sugar is for. Even if it’s an empty scare, these hormones will still come into play and sugar will be released.
But then, there is a potential problem here when stress becomes chronic. You constantly have a lot of sugar in your bloodstream. That way, stress increases your blood sugar levels permanently.
Risks associated with stress, anxiety and elevated blood sugar levels
When you’re constantly anxious and under stress, you keep getting these sugars, even if you don’t need them. Elevated sugar level puts you at risk of:
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- High blood pressure
- Chronic anxiety and restlessness
- Diabetes. In fact, controlling diabetes is a stressful situation on its own.
4. Stress and Sleep Disturbance
When we talked about stress and hormone imbalance, and stress and sugar imbalance, the associated symptoms indicated that they both affect sleep. That has made it clear that stress has an impact on sleep.
Let’s get back to the hormones; everything starts with the hormones. Adrenaline is called an emergency hormone for a reason.
You don’t sleep during emergencies. It spikes up the activity of your sympathetic nervous system. This part of your nervous system does not permit sleep. Aside from that, you have a lot of sugar in your bloodstream and that is a lot of energy. You are restless, and so you can’t sleep.
All of that is just physiological, and we could go on and on. But there are psychological factors also. The thought of the stressors could also keep you from sleeping. How well can you sleep when you have a deadline to beat by morning?
How well can you sleep when you have a high-stakes exam just right before your nose? Can you sleep conveniently when you’re on the brink of divorce?
I can guess the answer to those questions will be no. In the long term, being constantly under stress causes insomnia and sleep disorders.
5. Stress and Muscular Degeneration
It doesn’t end there. Stress also affects your muscles.
You have muscles in every part of your body, with different types specialized for different functions. There are the cardiac muscles in your heart, smooth muscles in your digestive system mostly, and then the skeletal muscles that enable you to move.
But when you’re under chronic stress, your muscles are in danger. How?
Stress breaks down your muscle tissues
Stress hormones cause catabolism of your muscles. It means that stress breaks down your muscle tissue. There is a possible reason for that.
Your muscles are made up of proteins. Proteins can serve as a source of energy when the sugar reserves and fat reserves have been used up.
This means that the stress hormones cause your body to use your muscles as food!
The effects of oxidative stress on your muscles
Here’s another thing that happens. The stress hormones produced when you’re anxious cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can also cause damage to your muscles.
If these continue to happen over a long time, your muscles continue to degenerate.
Muscular degeneration can cause:
- Constant falling
- Poor reflexes, etc.
6. Stress and Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue can be defined as a group of related signs and symptoms (a syndrome) that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level.
It is usually associated with intense stress and often follows chronic infections like bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia, etc.
Do you know how you function below par when you’re tired? Well, some believe that the same thing can happen to the adrenal glands also.
When you’re under stress constantly, your adrenal glands have to keep producing adrenaline and cortisol. Eventually, they get ‘fatigued’ and produce fewer hormones. That then leads to the symptoms experienced.
These symptoms include:
- Feeling tired and fatigued every day
- Higher levels of energy in the evening
- Difficulty handling stress
- A weak immune system
- Difficulty waking up in the morning
- Consuming too many stimulants, like caffeine
- Craving salty food or sweets
Is adrenal fatigue a myth?
However, a lot of people believe that there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue. They say that the symptoms are too general, and can point to any other condition.
On the other hand, there is such a thing as adrenal insufficiency. This condition is also associated with a reduction in the function of the adrenal glands as a result of damage or other problems.
7. Effects of stress on your Heart and Blood Pressure
Stress also reaches your cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system is the system of your body that is concerned with pumping and distributing blood around the body. It consists basically of your heart and blood vessels.
When you’re under stress and you produce these stress hormones, they cause your heart to beat faster and blood to move faster. This is so that nutrients circulate around your body faster.
Now imagine if your heart has to do all that extra hard work constantly? It is a lot of strain. If you’re constantly stressed, your heart always has to pump faster, and your heart rate will always be always high.
All this strain will wear your heart out eventually. Complications will develop.
Remember that we said the blood has to move faster also? Yes, so under chronic stress, the blood is always at high speed, and that leads to high blood pressure. That can damage your blood vessels, among other bad things it can do.
You see then how stress can cause cardiovascular complications like:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Myocardial infarction
- Ventricular hypertrophy, etc.
8. Stress Symptoms and Effects on your Brain and Mind
When you’re exposed to stress, the amygdala(the part of your brain associated with emotions) sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus then sets things in motion to bring about the stress responses we earlier discussed. That includes the increased heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Production of cortisol is included also.
Again, all these are normal. However, when it becomes chronic stress, then trouble has come knocking.
Chronic stress can cause mental Illness
Studies have proven that you are at an increased risk of mental illnesses if you’re constantly under stress. This is because stress and stress hormones affect the brain negatively.
Stress causes changes in the brain that leads to a disruption in communication between the various parts of the brain. The consequence of this could be mood disorders, depression, and so on.
The hippocampus (center for emotions) is affected too, causing emotional disorders.
Stress kills your brain cells
Stress might not hinder the production of new brain cells. However, stress can affect whether those cells survive or not.
When brain cells begin to die, definitely, the brain function will be impaired too.
Stress shrinks the brain
That’s right! Stress makes the brain smaller.
How do we know this? Here is an instance. When you are subjected to constant stress daily, the stress accumulates. You might not notice anything at that time, but the effects are gathering up.
When you are then faced with some major trauma at some point later, your ability to deal with that situation will be much less.
The bottom line is this: People who are constantly under stress have a reduced ability to deal with major stress later in life. This points to the fact that stress can make the brain smaller, reducing its adaptability and functionality.
Stress hurts the Memory
Have you ever entered an examination, a presentation, or etc, all stressed up, and find that you have blanked out? You can’t recall answers to questions in topics you have read up. Your opening statement seems to have deserted you when you needed it the most. Anxiety causes that.
The hippocampus is also associated with learning and memory. When you’re under stress, the hippocampus is affected, and this makes it difficult to remember things.
Stress affects your Brain’s Plasticity
Plasticity refers to your brain’s ability to rewire itself to make new connections and learn new things, to adapt, and to develop. When you’re always under stress, your brain’s plasticity reduces constantly also.
9. There are many other adverse effects of long-term stress
Chronic stress, or long-term stress, affects every system of your body. Therefore, this list is still pretty far from exhaustive.
There are still a lot of ways in which stress and anxiety can break you down. Some more of them are as follows:
- Osteoporosis: weakening of the bones that leave you prone to fractures. Combined with muscle degeneration and constant falling, it’s a deadly duo.
- Prolonged healing time: Wounds take longer to heal when you’re always under stress.
- Stress suppresses the functioning of your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections and diseases.
- Cortisol Resistance: when you always have cortisol in your body, the body sort of gets used to it. So, it no longer responds to cortisol. Consequently, next time you’re under a really threatening situation and cortisol is produced, your body will not respond to you. Therefore, you find it more difficult to cope with stressful situations.
- Stress reduces beneficial minerals.
- It ruins your skin.
- It causes behavioral problems like explosive anger.
And much more than that.
How to Manage Stress?
Chronic stress is detrimental and should be avoided. Thankfully, there are things that you can do for yourself to manage chronic stress. A few suggestions are here for you to try out:
- Adopt a regular exercise routine
- Practice daily meditation, mindfulness, and/or deep breathing exercises
- Improve your sleep hygiene, get enough sleep
- Seek out emotional support from family and friends
- Minimize your consumption of caffeine and alcohol
- Establish and maintain a healthy diet
- Evaluate and adjust your work-life balance
- Speak to a supportive friend, coworker or clergy.
- Try meditation or yoga
- Be gentle with yourself– take a break when you need to
- Do something fun like engaging in a hobby or reading.
Chronic stress affects your body very badly. You might not see it now, but terrible things are accumulating. Be proactive and make conscious efforts to relax. Avoid stress and anxiety.
Check out Hormone Balance with Ayurveda, a holistic health programme. Receive personalized Ayurvedic treatment and step-by step guidance on diet and lifestyle to balance hormones and find relief from hormone imbalances and stress symptoms.
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Wishing you vibrant health!