Now that we’ve had a basic idea of What Stress Actually is in the previous article, it’s important to know how it affects different body systems as there are so many systems in our body jointly coordinating to function properly and keep every organ functioning. Based on this information, it’s easier to find ways to prevent and treat different kinds of stresses. Stay Tuned for that too!
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF STRESS?
EFFECT OF STRESS ON DIFFERENT BODY SYSTEMS
HOW IS STRESS DIAGNOSED?
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF STRESS?
When your stress levels are constantly high and stay elevated for longer, it takes a toll on your mental health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of changes and conditions in our body.
Chronic stress affects your Autonomic Nervous System, making it more hyperactive, damaging your body. Some of the effects caused by Chronic Stress in our body include:
• Insomnia (Problems involving sleep)
• Chest Pain or a feeling of a 'racing heart.'
• PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
• High Blood Pressure
• Muscle Tension
• Jaw Clenching
• Trouble during sexual activities
• Weakened Immune system (Stress decreases the Lymphocyte count in the body, i.e. White Blood Cell counts, which are primarily helpful in fighting infections)
• Panic Attack
• Hair loss
• Hyperthyroidism (Over secretion of Thyroid Hormones which accelerates your body metabolism)
• Heart Disease
• Tooth and gum disease
• Menstrual Problems in Women
If you already have a serious health condition, stress can increase its intensity and worsen the health condition.
Acute stress can sometimes be very dangerous for specific people, especially heart patients. For heart patients, acute stress can trigger Heart Attacks, Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat rhythm) or even sudden death.
People with Chronic Stress resort to unhealthy habits, which will affect their conditions even more even though it appears to help them de-stress. Some of the unhealthy habits are:
• Drug intake
• Over Eating, etc.
• Anger Outbursts
• Social Withdrawal (Not feeling the need to socialize with anyone)
• Less Exercise
EFFECT OF STRESS ON DIFFERENT BODY SYSTEMS:
1. Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems:
Your Central Nervous System is Responsible for most of the activities in your body, as well as the "Fight or Flight" response. When your body starts experiencing stress, a part of your brain called the Hypothalamus commands the Adrenal Glands (Glands present on top of the kidney) to release various stress hormones such as Adrenaline and Cortisol. These hormones, in turn, regulate a few body mechanisms that indicate a feeling of stress, such as Increased Heart Beat, which increases the flow of blood to certain parts of your body that need a blood rush, such as your muscles, heart and other organs.
When the stimulus that triggered stress in your body starts to retreat, the Hypothalamus commands all the systems to go back to normal, and your body now feels calm and relaxed. This is how your body De-stresses.
But when the Central Nervous System fails to go back to normal, or the stimulus that caused stress to occur doesn't retreat or doesn't go away, the responses against stress such as increased heartbeat will continue and won't stop until the stimulus is gone.
2. Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems:
During times of Stress, an effort to increase the spread of oxygen in the body results in a faster breathing rate and heartbeat. Having breathing disorder such as Asthma or Emphysema can make it harder to breathe faster.
The heart starts to pump faster as well during times of stress. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict (Decrease in Diameter/Become narrow) and divert most of the oxygen carried by blood into your muscles so that you will have the adequate strength to take immediate action. But construction of blood vessels leads to an increase in Blood Pressure. As a result, frequent stressful conditions overworks your heart for longer periods.
The frequent rise in Blood pressure can increase risks for Heart Stroke or Heart Attacks.
3. Digestive System:
During stressful conditions, our muscles must work at their full capacity to increase strength to take proper action. This requires energy flow in our body. During stress, your liver produces more Glucose to boost energy to work your muscles at the right time.
During cases of Chronic Stress, more Glucose is produced to provide more energy to your muscles to be able to respond well, which increases the level of Blood Sugar (Glucose) in our body poses a threat to increasing chances of Diabetes Type 2.
The rush of hormones, an increase in breathing rate, and an increase in heart rate can also have some adverse effects on your digestive system. Heartburn or Acid Refluxes' Chances are higher due to an increase in Gastric Acid Secretion (Acid secreted in the stomach is known as gastric acid). Stress does not cause Gastric Ulcers, but it can increase your risk of developing gastric ulcers and cause existing ulcers to worsen. Gastric ulcers are usually caused by the presence of a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori.
Stress can also affect how food moves down through the alimentary canal leading to Digestional disorders such as Diarrhoea or Constipation. In addition, vomiting, Headache or a feeling of Nausea are also observed.
4. Muscular System:
Muscles have the function of contractability to cause any form of movement in the body. During stressful stress conditions, muscles contract and at times of de-stress, muscles relax.
If your body is constantly stressed, muscles will remain in a state of constant contraction and will not have enough time to relax. When muscles become tight due to contractions, it can cause headaches, shoulder pain, back pain, and body aches in specific parts of the body if the contractions last for a very long time.
5. Reproductive System:
Stress exhausts both the body and mind. A decrease in sexual drive is observed when the individual is stressed. Short-term stress causes an increase in the male sex hormone Testosterone production, but this is not the case during long-term stress.
High levels of stress hormone Cortisol decreases Testosterone production. A decrease in testosterone can then cause stress, and this is the beginning of a new cycle where stress levels are increased due to low testosterone and testosterone levels are decreased due to stress. Very low Testosterone levels can interfere with spermicide production and can also lead to Erectile Dysfunction and impotency.
For women, stress can affect the Menstrual cycle drastically. It can cause periods to become more irregular and even painful. Chronic stress can also increase the severity of symptoms of Menopause.
6. Immune System:
Stress stimulates the immune system to fight against the changes occurring in your body, which can be good for short term stresses. But if stress happens too often and for too long, it can cause the immune system to become weaker, and your body's response to other foreign invaders will be significantly reduced.
Stress hormone Cortisol causes the number of Lymphocytes or White Blood Cells to decrease, which decreases immunity as immunity is brought about in the body by the White Blood Cells. People under chronic stress are more likely to be affected by viral infections such as flu or the common cold. Stress can also delay recovery time from other diseases that you are suffering from
HOW IS STRESS DIAGNOSED?
Stress is not something that can be easily diagnosed as the intensity of stress, and tolerance level varies from person to person. Doctors usually diagnose stress by checking on your symptoms, biochemical measures and physiological techniques to identify stress.
The most common way doctors diagnose stress is by asking the patient questions about their symptoms and how it has affected them.
Before resorting to natural remedies, if you find yourself experiencing symptoms for a very long time, consider visiting a doctor to make treatment as effective as possible.
A survey conducted by Cigna TTK Health Insurance called 2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey-Well and Beyond, reported Stress levels among Indians as very high compared to other countries. Of those in the age group of 35-49,89% of the people experienced at least some form of stress.