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Stress is a fact of life for us all. Our bodies react to it in such a way that we have the additional acuity, energy, and strength needed to address the challenges at hand. Although experiencing stress is universal, understanding it is not. Below, we examine the effects of stress on our minds, bodies, and social lives.
Your Brain on Stress
Stress is most immediately processed by your brain. Once triggered, your brain unleashes a cascade of hormones that create many of the other reactions we commonly associate with stress. (1)
- Stress “Enters” the Amygdala
- The amygdala receives images and sounds and accordingly assigns them the emotion of panic.
- When the amygdala perceives danger, it signals the hypothalamus.
- Signals from the Hypothalamus
- The hypothalamus acts like a command center, controlling the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which speed up or slow down responses, respectively.
- With the signal from the amygdala, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system.
- The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight response to provide you with a burst of energy to confront or flee from danger.
- When activated by the hypothalamus, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline.
- Epinephrine creates a chain reaction of the common effects of stress: faster heartbeat, muscle tension, quickness of breath, and sharpened senses.
The Effects of Stress
Stress affects both our minds and our bodies. Because changes in our psychology can impact us physically and vice versa, the effects of stress can be interrelated, and we often experience distinct symptoms — especially in cases of chronic stress.
Physical Effects of Stress (2)
- Muscle tension and pain
- Chest pain
- Decreased libido
- Upset stomach
Psychological Effects of Stress (2)
- Mental fog
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability and anger
- Sadness and depression
Bodily Reactions to Stress
Far from impacting only the brain, stress takes its toll on all the systems of the human body. While stress sometimes catches us off guard, chronic stress can have debilitating effects.
Nervous System (3)
- Interference with timing, balance, and communication
- Decline in short-term memory
- Mood and anxiety disorders
Musculoskeletal System (4)
- Muscle tension
- Headaches and migraines
- Chronic pain
- Muscle atrophy
Respiratory System (4)
- Shortness of breath
- Panic attacks
- Asthma attacks
Cardiovascular System (4)
- Increased heart rate
- Strong heart contractions
- Elevated blood pressure
- Heart attack
Endocrine System (4)
- Increased hormone production
- Chronic fatigue
- Metabolic disorders
- Immune disorders
Gastrointestinal System (4)
- Fluctuation in appetite
- Heartburn and acid reflux
- Difficulty swallowing
- Diarrhea or constipation
Reproductive System (4)
- Reduced libido
- Fertility problems
- Irregular menstruation
Signs of Stress on the Body
While many of the effects of stress are internal, some are readily apparent. (5)
|Weight||Rapid gain or loss||Stable|
|Hands||Trembling, sweaty||Steady, dry|
|Skin||Red, broken out, itchy||Clear|
Social Impact of Stress
Stress affects not only you, but also your family, friends, and colleagues. which. The psychological and physical effects of stress can come together to have debilitating social impacts.
Increased levels of the hormone vasopressin, which is also released when we become stressed, can lead to: (6)
- Difficulty negotiating interpersonal relationships
- Greater isolation, frustration, and stress
- Further increased levels of vasopressin
The symptoms and impacts of stress often create a cycle that can be difficult to break. Don’t let stress get the best of you. Educating yourself about the physical and psychological effects of stress is the first step to living a healthier, stress-free life.
Pursuing a Counseling Career
Interested in helping people find healthy ways to deal with the physical and psychological effects of stress? Consider an online master’s degree in mental health counseling from Malone University. Our program gives you the opportunity to gain hands-on experience while still benefiting from an online classroom environment.