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Body Signals: How Stress Affects The Body

If someone asked you how stressed you have been these past few weeks, what would you say?

Stress is something everyone experiences from time to time. It exists in a variety of types – all which carry health risks, both physically and mentally.

Stressors may be a one-time occurrence, a short-term occurrence, or it can happen repeatedly over a long period of time.

The way we cope with stress is extremely unique. Some people are better at recovering from stressful events more quickly, while others take more time to recover.

The way in which the body deals with stress is entirely unique to every person.

How stress affects the body infographic

Examples of stress include:

  • Routine stress related to the pressures of school, work, family, finances, and other daily responsibilities
  • Stress induced by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, death in the family, or illness
  • Traumatic stress experienced during a major event such as a war, assault, major accident, natural disaster or the current pandemic where danger is present of becoming seriously hurt

Not all stress is bad. In a dangerous situation, stress signals the body to prepare to face a threat or flee to safety. This is called the fight-or flight response. This response is mainly triggered by your sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system ramps up the body by increasing heart rate, increasing breathing and muscles tense up as adrenaline surges. You’ve probably experienced these types of body functions when a car pulls out in front of you and you need to swerve out of the way, nearly avoiding an accident, or when you are about to speak at a public engagement. All these actions are aimed at survival in a stressful situation and are beneficial in the short term until the dangerous situation has passed. When these short-term responses to stress become long-term, the effects can harm your health.

Long-term, or chronic stress is challenging on the body because it never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning. Chronic stress leads to an overactive autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls all your organs, glands, and blood vessels. With chronic stress, those same lifesaving reactions in the body can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems. Again, everyone is unique in the way they adapt to chronic stress. Some may experience digestive issues while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, or irritability. The list is almost endless when it comes to the negative effect chronic stress has on the body. In next week’s blog we will be discussing the ways we can help our body deal with chronic stress and minimize the negative impact it has on our health.

National Institute of Mental Health (

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