It’s Monday morning. You overslept, your kids were late for school, and your boss gave you a hard time because you came in 30 minutes after your shift began. At lunchtime, you head to a nearby deli, and it’s incredibly busy. After waiting in line for 15 minutes and placing your order, you realize that you left your wallet at the office. You head back to work hungry, sit down at your desk, your mind starts racing a million miles a second, and you can’t think clearly.
The chaotic start to your week has made you incredibly stressed, and the anxiety is palpable. At this point, you’re simply not able to produce at your full potential. You try to clear your mind, but you’re struggling to calm yourself down — which exacerbates the issue.
At some point or another, we’ve all found ourselves in these kinds of stressful situations. If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given much thought to stress other than the fact that it’s an inevitable part of life. What you might not know is that stress has a profound impact on the body, and those who underestimate or ignore stress do so at their own risk.
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT THE BODY?
Believe it or not, stress has an impact on every system in the body:
- Cardiovascular system — The heartbeat accelerates and adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline course through the body; over time, chronic stress can lead to heart attacks, hypertension, and strokes.
- Nervous system — Stress causes the nervous system to speed up heartbeats, make people breathe faster, and increase glucose levels in the body for more energy.
- Endocrine system — Through the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus tells the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol; over a long enough timeline, repeated stress affects the body, which can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, and immune disorders as communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland deteriorates.
- Musculoskeletal system — Muscles tense up as your fight or flight response is triggered, which can lead to headaches and migraines.
- Respiratory system — Breathing intensifies, which can cause shortness of breath or impact preexisting conditions, like asthma and COPD.
- Gastrointestinal system — Brain-gut communication is impacted, which can lead to vomiting, bowel discomfort, and unhealthy diets; stressed individuals might smoke and drink to take the edge off.
- Reproductive system — Sexual desires diminish; men can have a harder time producing sperm; women’s menstrual cycles can get disrupted and they may have a harder time trying to conceive.