July 09, 2020
The Effects of Stress and Anxiousness on Your Health
Everyone is familiar with stress and anxiousness in some form or another – not only do these emotions trigger a mental response, but also a physical one too. Experiencing some level of stress and anxiousness is normal and healthy, but an excess of these feelings can have a severe impact on a person’s daily life and health. In fact, 43% percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
Stress and anxiousness can have an effect on all aspects of your life including your body and your mental state: your emotions, behaviors, and even your ability to think! The effects of stress and anxiousness aren’t limited to only certain parts of your body either, nothing is immune. However, people handle stress differently, so symptoms of stress can vary greatly from person to person. 75% to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments, complaints, and concerns. Symptoms can be very slight, or they could be very pronounced.
The effects on your brain.
When your brain encounters a threat, it triggers a surge that ultimately releases chemicals, like cortisol and norepinephrine. These chemicals give us a natural boost in reflex time, perception, and speed and cause our hearts to pump faster in order to get more blood and oxygen circulating through our bodies. This can increase the frequency of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and low mood.
In excess or prolonged exposure, stress can cause long-term damage to our bodies. Some known effects have been linked to a weakened immune system, weight gain, heart disease, and other issues. Research being conducted is also exploring the possible correlation between prolonged stress and anxiousness with the structural degeneration of the hippocampus and impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex. In short, the wear and tear from chronic stress and anxiousness on the brain could be tied to an increased risk of low mood and memory issues.
There is good news though – some of the damage incurred from chronic stress and anxiousness can be temporary. The brain is capable of change which means there is some degree of regrowth and regeneration possible.
The effects on your body.
While stress and anxiousness are often thought to have mental or behavioral affects, they can also have serious consequences on your physical health.
Cardiovascular system - The increase in heart rate can cause palpitations, chest pain, an increased risk of blood pressure concerns and heart disease.
Digestive and Gastrointestinal systems - You may experience stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and other digestive and gastrointestinal issues, which could be made worse by stress and anxiousness.
Immune system - Stress and anxiousness trigger your “flight or fight” response. Chemicals and hormones, like adrenaline, are released which increase your pulse rate resulting in more oxygen getting to the brain. With repeated stress and anxiousness, your body never gets the signal to return to normal functioning which can weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses.
Respiratory system - Stress can lead to anxiousness which can cause rapid, shallow breathing as your body is trying to get more oxygen to your muscles, preparing you to run. Your heart rate increases, and you may feel hot as more blood pumps to your muscles, preparing you to fight. All of these symptoms are normal body responses designed to save your life. However, those who have underlying respiratory issues may find that the shallow breathing and increased heart rate may exacerbate symptoms that are already a concern and should consult with their healthcare provider.
If possible, protect your brain and body from the effects of chronic stress and anxiousness by finding ways to manage it before there are larger health implications. Some people are able to manage their stress and anxiousness through self-care routines while others may benefit from the additional support of a medical professional.
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
- Robinson, Jennifer MD, “The Effects of Stress on Your Body”, 10 December 2017, Web MD, accessed 11 June 2020, <https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body>
- “Protect your brain from stress”, August 2018, Harvard Health Publishing, accessed 11 June 2020, <https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-from-stress>
- “Chronic stress, anxiety can damage the brain, increase risk of major psychiatric disorders”, 21 January 2016, Science Daily, accessed 11 June 2020, <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160121121818.htm>
- Pietrangelo, Ann and Watson, Stephanie, “’The Effects of Stress on Your Body”, 29 March 2020, Healthline, accessed 11 June 2020, <https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1>