Introduction

How Stress Affects Your Body

Amanda Page May 11th, 2012 (updated Jan 10th, 2014)
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You are about to walk on stage to deliver a presentation to a full auditorium of your colleagues and superiors. Sure, you are prepared, but the thought of public speaking causes you to feel weak in the knees and your stomach to fill up with butterflies. Stress is rarely pleasant, but it is a fact of life and has even been known to inspire creativity, problem solving skills and competitive drive. But what about the effects of chronic stress? Mind and body work together to keep a person healthy, but if either are compromised, the interaction of the two can have serious consequences. Here is how chronic stress can affect all areas of your body.

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The brain
The brain

Every day we encounter situations where we are forced to confront challenges. Keeping up at work, losing a job, moving, financial troubles and personal angst are just a few. Over time, chronic stress can trigger a variety of mental and emotional problems including insomnia, headaches, irritability, depression, anxiety and personality changes.     

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Hair
Hair

High levels of stress have been linked to excessive hair loss and even baldness. Stress induced hair loss typically occurs as a result of severe stress such as a family death or surgery and is referred to as “telogen effluvium.” Such hair loss isn’t necessarily irreversible, particularly in women, but could take anywhere from 6-12 months to fully recover.  

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Skin
Skin

We’ve all noticed people that seem to wear their long work hours and bad relationships on their face in the form of early aging. But chronic stress can also aggravate existing skin problems including psoriasis, rosacea, acne and eczema.   

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The mouth
The mouth

Excess stress can affect oral health and has been linked to chronic dry mouth and painful mouth ulcers commonly known as canker sores. Stress can lead to clenching and grinding your teeth during the day or even unconsciously at night, which could lead to TMJ, a condition afflicting the jaw and surrounding muscles.      

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Muscles
Muscles

Muscular pain such as backaches, neck pain and shoulder pain can become more noticeable when under stress. Bad posture and sedentary lifestyle can increase the frequency of muscle pain. Those who suffer from fibromyalgia, herniated discs and repetitive strain injuries could experience a spike in aggravation during periods of stress.  

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The heart
The heart

Cumulative stress is known to contribute to cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Those tending to be excessively competitive, impatient, quick or hostile are considered to have a higher risk of developing heart problems. Additionally, a common response to stress is eating comfort foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar which aren’t beneficial for heart health. 

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The lungs
The lungs

Those with asthmatic conditions may experience complications and flare-ups when under high levels of mental or emotional stress.  Acute stress, which occurs during a quick burst of stress such as shock or fear, sends the body into a state of panic causing a sudden increase in oxygen flow and rapid breathing which can result in dizziness, light-headedness and blacking out.  

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The digestive tract
The digestive tract

The old “butterflies in the stomach” adage has some merit. It isn’t uncommon to experience an upset tummy, nausea, or diarrhea while under stress. You may be literally worrying yourself sick! This is because the stomach, like the brain, is full of highly sensitive nerves, and the digestive tract reacts when you are stressed.  

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Weight Gain
Weight Gain

Comfort foods may seem like an easy way to self-medicate stress. Several hormones play a role in the stress and craving process, including serotonin, cortisol and neuropeptide Y, resulting in decreased self-control and overindulgence in unhealthy foods. 

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The reproductive organs
The reproductive organs

Stress has a broad impact on reproductive health, ranging from sexual dysfunction to infertility. Chronic stress is known to cause changes in sex drive, vaginal infections and impotence. While much research is still needed to substantiate the link of chronic stress to infertility, there is a strong concern that stress and “trying-too-hard” to get pregnant can contribute to infertility.