Have you ever been so stressed out that you felt sick to your stomach? Well, it's probably not just in your head. In fact, this bodily reaction is a result of your body's stress response triggered by altered brain activity and heightened cortisol release. In other words, it's fight or flight. An article in The Atlantic that explores how stress affects the body explains, "When you're stressed, the adrenal glands ramp up the release of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Adrenaline speeds up your heart rate and can raise blood pressure."
Some of the side effects of stress include acne, hair loss, cardiovascular complications, digestive issues, and reproductive problems. Sometimes these physical reactions to stress can end up causing more discomfort and emotional distress. If your body kicks into stress response every once in awhile, don't worry too much—it happens to all of us. But if you experience chronic stress, from a job or another aspect of your life, the stress can ultimately eventually cause serious damage. As explained by The Atlantic, "Cortisol causes changes in the blood vessels that can, over time, increase the risk of heart attack or stroke."
You get the picture: It's a vicious cycle. Pretty scary, right? Well, in an effort to minimize stress, not induce it, let's learn about some of the ways we can all identify the physical manifestations of stress in our lives, and thus, work on preventing them. Scroll through to understand more about the physical effects of stress and find the best ways to cope with each as you practice more long-term stress management.
Insomnia & Weakened Immunity
What keeps you up at night? If you've had a lot on your mind lately and you've also been staying up until the wee hours of the night despite feeling exhausted, it's probably not a coincidence. Because stress can throw your body into hyperarousal mode, it can impact how much sleep you get as well as your quality of sleep. Since sleep is also essential to a healthy immune system, the two go hand-in-hand.
Over a long period of time, stress can also weaken your immune system. This is because your body goes into survival mode when there's an increase in cortisol levels, so it works really hard to right off infections that aren't there and then doesn't have any energy left over for normal maintenance. To combat stress and sleep-related issues, try the 4-7-8 breathing tip.
Heartburn & Rapid Heartrate
The reason you're experiencing heavy breathing and a rapid heartbeat when you feel stressed is because your heart is pumping extra hard to distribute more oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. This stress response can be problematic if it continues for an extended period of time because your heart isn't strong enough to constantly be working this hard. This can also lead to digestive issues, like heartburn.
Practicing breathing exercises to slow down your bodily response is a great way to relax your mind. Make sure you're also getting regular exercise since endorphin release can help regulate your body and counteract the hormones released when stressed, according to Health Line.
Irregular Periods & Reproductive System
As explained by Josh Axe, MD, "Chronic stress can also magnify the physical symptoms of menopause." So if you've been noticing that your periods are heavier and irregular, or they come with particularly painful cramps, it could be related to stress. Like we previously mentioned, stress can throw off our hormone balance. So using a hormonal birth control method can help regulate your periods, but there are also a few natural supplements that can balance your hormones naturally. Eating balanced diets with plenty of essential nutrients is also key.
Learn more about fighting stress by reading Making Your Life Easier: How to Combat Stress.
Has stress ever made you sick? Sound off in the comments below and feel free to share your stress-management tips.