The Effects of Stress on your Body - Symptoms you Should Know

Stress is produced by the hormone cortisol and when produced in excess, it can cause disasters in the body.
The Effects of Stress on your Body - Symptoms you Should Know
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 11 April, 2024

The effects of stress on your body are more far-reaching than you would believe. If the tension and a negative mental state remain for prolonged periods then it will seriously affect our health, and trap us just like an insect on a spider’s web. The cumulative effects of chronic stress take hold of us, weaken us, and leave us with little or no energy to cope with the hustle and bustle of our day to day lives.

Stress is a buzzword that almost everyone uses when they find it impossible to reach their goals. When the day is short and our list of obligations very long. When our headache becomes unbearable and the tasks seem endless. All of us, in some way or another, have experienced that uncomfortable feeling. Stress is one of a human being’s worst enemies.

“There is more and more evidence that stress directly affects the nervous system, as well as producing infectious diseases such as flu, cold, herpes …”

-Bruce McEwen, Psychologist, University of Yale

Now, behind these sensations are the inner realities, the effects, and the consequences. We are talking about the impact that this disorder can have on our body, as it invades us and affects many of our basic functions. One fact that we must bear in mind in the first place is that stress changes our brain. When stress becomes something permanent in our lives, our memory deteriorates, certain structures degenerate and a cognitive decline develop. There is an even greater risk when depression occurs.

We’re not talking about something innocuous. Stress is more than just a buzzword, it’s a disorder. It’s a reality that leaves an imprint on our lives and takes away vitality, energy and, of course, health.

Stressed man at work

The effects of stress on your body

The effects of stress on your body are controlled by a very specific area of our brain – the hypothalamus. This interesting region acts almost like a radar. It is very sensitive to worries, to those mental knots full of fear and anxiety. It interprets all these messages as a threat and, instantly, issues a warning signal to our body, and tells it that we must escape.

Faced with this alarming information, an incredibly complex response is triggered in our body. To begin with, the pituitary gland and the adrenal cortex release the stress hormones. These hormones contain very similar elements to cortisone. They are called glucocorticoids, the most important one being cortisol.

Glucocorticoids have their positive side and their negative side. If they are released at a specific moment and for a limited time, they help us to react in a more flexible way. They help to use the best we have in any given situation. However, if that release is continuous, if it occurs day after day, then the effects of stress on your body are tremendous. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Effects of stress on heart

Respiratory and cardiac symptoms

Stress hormones directly affect both the respiratory system and the cardiovascular system. We breathe faster in an attempt by the brain to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, and thus be able to react as quickly as possible to threats. Now, this is undoubtedly a great risk, because it produces tachycardia and hypertension.

Another phenomenon also occurs – the blood vessels narrow to bring more oxygen to the muscles so that we can “escape” from these supposed threats. This means that both our heart and brain will receive less oxygen and nutrients.

The effects on your digestive system

Another effect of stress on your body is on our digestive system. They are the following:

  • Stomach ache
  • The appearance of ulcers
  • Digestive problems
  • Gastric reflux
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stress forces the liver to produce higher blood sugar (glucose) in order to get more energy. This produces a greater risk of suffering from diabetes
  • Colitis and intestinal inflammation
Woman in pain

Obesity or weight loss

This effect can vary a lot from person to person. There are those who, when faced with stressful situations, increase their intake of calorific foods in order to satisfy their emotional craving. Other people, on the other hand, can completely lose their appetites.

Hair loss

Hair loss due to stress is quite common. Elevated levels of cortisol in the blood weaken the hair follicles, and a progressive hair loss can occur. Also, we can also suffer from alopecia areata, where one can suffer hair loss in smaller areas, and localized baldness may appear.

Changes in menstruation

Chronic stress usually has serious effects on our hormonal system. One of the most obvious symptoms in women is the appearance of very irregular menstrual cycles. Their periods may be delayed, they may not come, or the menstrual flow may be less than usual.

Weaker immune system

The effects of stress on our bodies can greatly affect our immune system. Emotional stress undermines our defenses. If we don’t deal with it properly and remain stressed for long periods of time, then the response of our immune system is reduced and we begin to be more vulnerable to the different conditions. Among these conditions are:

  • Flus and colds
  • Herpes
  • Allergies
  • Skin conditions
  • A slower healing process of wounds or injuries.
Man with a cold

To conclude, it is evident that the effects of stress on our bodies are tremendous. Sometimes, we can’t see this link and we resort to medication and other types of treatment, without understanding where our symptoms come from, what the real trigger is. Experts in this field tell us that people generally don’t know how to recognize the symptoms.

Chronic stress may be causing diabetes,  insomnia or an unknown allergy may be causing our persistent headaches. Their could be an unseen enemy lurking inside us, and we’ll do well to take all these things into account.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.