Stress: A Three Part Series | Part 1: Effects of Stress on the Body and Mind
Stress can sometimes seem as though it is everywhere. Common factors of stress can be work related, fighting traffic, taking care of family, errands, relationships, bills, and just a general feeling of lack of time to get everything done, to name just a few. It can feel that stress is associated with so many things. What is stress, though? Merriam-Webster defines it as “one of bodily or mental tension, resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium” (Stress, n.d.). If stress alters our natural or existing equilibrium, what does this mean for our mind and body, how to we find our way back, is there any way to prevent this from happening in the future?
This will be the first in a series of three blogs. The first blog will discuss stress and the effects on the body. The second blog will discuss how to deal with stress and its effects on your mind and body to find your way back to your equilibrium. Finally, the third blog in this series will discuss how to prevent yourself from becoming overly stressed.
When a person gets stressed, the whole body can be affected, as well as a person’s mind. Stress can have complex effects on how we think and how we feel. Although, some stress is good, if it is acute and manageable, when stress becomes chronic, it can alter out equilibrium and might create lasting issues in our mind and body.
Effects of Stress on the Body
When we get stressed, our bodies secrete more adrenaline and cortisol, which is also referred to as the stress hormone. At normal levels these hormones can do positive things for our bodies, but at too high of levels and being stressed for long periods of time, these hormones can alter our natural equilibrium. With an increased amount of stress several bodily responses can take place (although everyone experiences stress differently). Our muscles will begin to tighten, as our bodies begin to prepare for our fight-or-flight response, we can experience headaches and migraine. With acute stress, once the stress passes, your body will begin to return to normal.
Stress can impact our digestive system and can create a bodily environment that is more prone to ulcers. In other ways, stress might create insomnia, in which our bodies struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep during our normal sleeping hours, and the sleep that one gets can often be of poor quality. Insomnia does not just affect us during the night, but the lack of sleep can impact us throughout the day, too.
Chronic stress also affects our bodies’ ability to ward off illness. We become more prone to the common cold, and we can even become more susceptible illnesses such as cancer. We may even become more at risk for heart disease and diabetes when we have chronic stress in our lives.
Effects of Stress on the Mind
Stress can have a significant impact on our mind, too. Again, as with the body, acute stress can be helpful, even increasing our ability to think and remember. Too much stress, which becomes chronic, can be bad for our minds. When we come become stressed, many times brain’s capacities begin to change. We can become tired, our ability to concentrate or pay attention to the details can become inhibited, and we can start to feel overwhelmed. It is possible that chronic stress can even hinder our ability to remember or recall information. With chronic stress, we become more susceptible to more serious and chronic problems, such as anxiety and depression, and we can even begin to ruminate on stress more.
Stress affects each of us differently, but it is important to be aware of the possibilities that chronic stress can have on our physical and mental wellbeing. We all at some point will experience chronic stress, and now that we have touched on some of the effects of stress, in my next post, I will talk about how to manage our stress. I will explore coping skills, discuss the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping skills, and examine how to find our way back to our pre-stress equilibrium.
Stress [Def 1d]. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stress
Written by Cara Metz, Ed.D., LPC | Interim Chair of Counseling, Forensic Psychology, & I/O Psychology Programs at Argosy University, Denver