All of us will stress
face at some point in our life. Whether it’s an impending deadline at work, the
pressure that comes from managing your own business, renovating a home, or
running a household, we all face stressful situations. Stress in and of itself isn’t
problematic – it’s our natural response to cope with situations that may put us
It’s when we find
ourselves in a constant state of stress that we run into trouble. Chronic
stress wreaks havoc on the body, affecting everything from our mental health to
our ability to properly digest food. Here are just some of the ways that stress
affects our health:
Ever heard someone say
that they have butterflies in their stomach, or that they’ve had a
gut-wrenching experience? The connection between stomach cramps or tension and
feeling stressed isn’t random.
Stress can directly
affect digestion in a number of different ways. When we’re in a state of
stress, our body sends blood away from our digestive organs and towards our
limbs, so that we’re ready to run or fight our way from danger.
The brain and the
gastrointestinal (or GI) system are connected, and they regularly interact by
sending signals to one another. An anxious or stressed brain can cause symptoms
in the gut, so learning to effectively manage stress might help to relieve
digestive discomfort or pain.
When we feel stressed,
our bodies respond by tensing up our muscles and then relaxing them as we are
removed from the stressful situation. When we experience chronic stress, these
tensed muscles never get a chance to properly relax. This creates tension in
not only the muscles themselves but also in other areas of the body that are
For example, people
often tense their shoulders when they are stressed, which over time affects the
neck and head, leading to tension headaches and migraines. Stress can also
manifest in pain in the lower back, a symptom that’s often experienced by
and stress management can help to ease tension throughout the body, allowing
for a greater sense of wellbeing.
Problems with sleep
Insomnia, or the
inability to sleep, can be caused by many things – one of which is stress. If
you’ve experienced a particularly stressful period in your life and find yourself
unable to sleep, there may well be a connection between the two.
When we experience
high levels of stress, it can be difficult to ‘wind down’ in the evenings
before bed. Rather than feeling tired, we find ourselves in a hyper-aroused
state where our minds are racing, making it extremely difficult to reach a
state of relaxation that’s necessary for sleep.
Sleep directly affects
our cognition, or our ability to think clearly. This means that getting enough
sleep is an important part of managing stress and making decisions that benefit
our health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep places stress on
our heart and cardiovascular system.
Chronic stress can
affect the reproductive health of both men and women. For women, elevated
stress levels can have an effect on the menstrual cycle, resulting in an
irregular or absent menstrual cycle as well as painful or uncomfortable
periods. Stress can also worsen the symptoms of women experiencing menopause.
Stress can also affect
the fertility of both men and women, lowering the libido and the chances of a
Whether you’re trying
to conceive or not, managing stress levels can improve reproductive health and
restore the production of sex hormones.
In short doses, stress
can actually have a positive effect on the immune system, kicking our bodies
into gear and preparing them to fight off infection. When we’re chronically
stressed, the communication between our brains and bodies doesn’t work as well,
and the immune system may actually weaken.
Other symptoms of
chronic stress, for example, poor digestion or sleep, can contribute to our
bodies ability to effectively fight off disease or infection. Keeping stress at
bay gives our bodies a greater chance of working effectively, helping to boost
our immune system.
Our mental health is
just as important as our physical health. Stress can have a huge effect on our
mental wellbeing, leading to a feeling of being unable to cope with life’s pressures
or manifesting in conditions like anxiety or depression.
Stress can come from
many different sources and impacts everyone differently. It can affect our
emotions, our behaviour, and our desire to participate in healthy activities
like exercise or socialising with others.
In the same way,
everyone manages stress differently, so it’s important to find a strategy that
works for you and your lifestyle. If you’re experiencing stress that’s
affecting your health, speak to your GP about finding a solution that works for