Stress. We’ve all felt it. Whether it’s nerves over an approaching work deadline or a major life event — stress gets to us all. It’s a normal part of life, but unfortunately, it can lead to dangerous health risks like depression, immune deficiencies, and heart problems. It’s almost impossible to avoid stress altogether, but we can reduce its impact on our health and wellness. So, what does stress do to the body?
Well, when you feel stressed, your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol, which affects you in many ways. In fact, cortisol is often called the stress hormone. Cortisol regulates our mood and cravings, changes the rate and pressure of blood flow, and affects the way we look and feel.
When a change occurs, cortisol is released, causing levels in your body to rise. The release of cortisol is a primitive “fight or flight” response. Your body offers you a boost to deal with the stressor (a tight deadline, for example), and then returns to normal once the goal is reached. However, when you are constantly under stress, your body remains on edge, and your cortisol levels stay elevated. When cortisol levels are higher than normal, you may experience physical and emotional symptoms.
What Does Stress Do to The Body: The Physical Symptoms
When you’re under too much stress, your symptoms may show on the outside, as well. Stress affects more than just your mental health. The following are some examples of the physical manifestations of chronic stress in men.
A spike in cortisol during times of stress increases cravings for sugary or fatty foods. High stress levels can lead to emotional eating and gaining unwanted pounds. Cortisol also tells your brain to continue storing fat cells rather than burn them as energy. This leads to unhealthy weight gain, especially around the belly.
Heightened stress makes your muscles tense, which can leave you fatigued and sore. Over prolonged periods of stress, this can cause chronic and acute muscle pain, especially in joints or along the spine.
The surge in cortisol dilates and constricts veins and blood vessels, which causes pressure and sometimes pain. Headaches are a common response to stress from prolonged muscle tension.
Stress affects your hormone levels and can cause outbreaks of acne or other skin conditions, like psoriasis. Stress also speeds up the aging process, resulting in hair loss, dull skin, and other symptoms of premature aging.
Long-Term Effects of Stress
Without relief, heightened stress can take an even greater toll on your health and wellness. If your cortisol levels are constantly elevated, you may experience some long-term, serious health problems. The following are just a few of the long-term effects of chronic stress and high cortisol levels.
Did you know that 58% of men say getting enough sleep is important, yet only 25% of them actually report getting enough sleep?
Stress often leads to insomnia, which then leaves you feeling more stressed the next day. The sleep-stress cycle can be vicious if you don’t do anything to improve your quality of sleep. Some easy adjustments you can make to your bedtime routine to reduce stress include:
- Avoid electronic stimuli and digital screens 30 minutes before going to bed
- Use lamps and dimmed lighting to mimic circadian rhythm or the pattern of the sun.
- Maintain a regular bedtime
- Don’t exercise or consume caffeine or nicotine when it’s close to bedtime
- Don’t work in your bedroom. Your room should be for relaxation only
Heart Problems and Potential Stroke
Rapid blood vessel constriction caused by stress can temporarily increase your blood pressure. If this becomes frequent, it can increase your risk of having a stroke, resulting in long-term complications and need for medical treatment.
Too much stress breaks down your immune system and makes it less effective at fighting germs. Long-term exposure to stress is actually linked to autoimmune disease.
Some things that happen in life are out of your control and cause stress. But that doesn’t mean you have to let it take over your life. There are several easy ways to relieve stress to improve your health and wellness. Now that you can answer “what does stress do to the body,” you can begin finding ways to prevent it from happening through these stress relief techniques.
Stress makes you breathe harder and faster, keeping you in an anxious state and sometimes resulting in a panic attack. Purposeful, slow and deep breathing can lower your level of anxiety within minutes, or even seconds. Use this resource to learn how to practice three different breathing exercises — the Bellows Breath, 4-7-8 exercise, and breath counting.
Deep breathing is a great way to relax by sitting straight-backed with hands on your stomach and chest. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Push out enough air so that you feel your abdominal muscles working. Notice how the hand on your stomach moves.
Regular exercise keeps your heart healthy, bones strong, and muscles limber. It also releases feel-good endorphins that relieve stress, increases self-confidence, and helps you sleep through the night. Any type of exercise you enjoy can do the trick. This could be anything from running and yoga to bike riding and martial arts. Take a 30-minute walk a few times a week, a daily swim, or a group exercise class. You will reap the health benefits from any activity that gets you moving.
A few minutes of self-reflection and relaxation have been shown to reduce daily stress. Setting aside time to meditate encourages discipline and self-care, and it can renew your energy to get back to your goals.