The Effects of Chronic Stress on Your Body


Stress is a natural physical and mental response to life experiences. Everyone experiences stress at various time intervals. Anything from everyday commitments like work and family to major life events like a new diagnosis, war, or the death of a loved one can trigger stress. 

In immediate and short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you deal with potentially serious situations. Your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones that affect your heart and breathing rates and can also cause muscle reactions. This can help you in incidents that require a fight or flight instinct. 

However, if your stress levels remain elevated far longer than it takes you to survive, it can negatively affect your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms that affect your overall well-being. Symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • headaches
  • insomnia

Let’s take a look at how chronic stress affects your body and its systems. 

Digestive System

When you’re under pressure, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. However, when you endure chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with that extra surge in glucose. In addition, Chronic stress can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The hormonal surge, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can also wreak havoc on your digestive system. You are more likely to experience heartburn due to an increase in stomach acid. Stress doesn’t cause ulcers, but it can increase your risk of ulcers and cause existing ones to flare up.

Stress can also affect the way food moves through your body, causing diarrhea or constipation. You may also experience nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

Cardiovascular and Respiratory Systems

Stress affects your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the anxiety response, you breathe faster to quickly bring oxygenated blood to your body. Breathing problems like asthma or emphysema can make it even harder for you to breathe when combined with stress.

Your heart pumps faster during stress. Stress hormones constrict your blood vessels and bring more oxygen to your muscles so you can perform better. However, that also raises your blood pressure.

As a result, frequent or chronic stress causes your heart to work too hard for too long. As your blood pressure increases, so do your risks of having a stroke or heart attack.

Nervous and Endocrine Systems

Your central nervous system (CNS ) is responsible for your “fight or flight” response. In your brain, the hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones make your heart beat faster and send blood to the areas that need it most in an emergency, such as your muscles, heart, and other major organs.

When the perceived fear disappears, the hypothalamus signals all systems to return to normal. If the CNS does not return to normal or if the stressor does not go away, the response will continue.

Chronic stress is also a major factor in behaviors such as overeating or under-eating, alcohol or drug abuse, and social isolation.

Muscular System

Your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury when you’re stressed. They tend to relax as soon as you relax, but if you’re under constant stress, your muscles may not have a chance to relax. 

Tense muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches. Over time, this can trigger an unhealthy cycle when you stop exercising and turn to painkillers for relief.

Reproductive System and Sexuality

Stress is exhausting for the body and mind. It’s not uncommon to lose desire under constant stress. While short-term stress can cause men to produce more testosterone, the male hormone, this effect doesn’t last.

When stress is prolonged, a man’s testosterone levels can begin to decline. This can affect sperm production and lead to erectile dysfunction or impotence. Chronic stress can also increase the risk of infection in male reproductive organs, such as the prostate and testicles.

In women, anxiety can affect the menstrual cycle. Periods may be irregular, heavier, or more painful. Chronic stress can also increase the physical symptoms of menopause.

Immune System

Stress stimulates the immune system, which can be beneficial in acute situations. This stimulation can help you avoid infection and heal wounds. Yet, over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and decrease your body’s response to foreign invaders. 

People who are under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral diseases such as the flu and cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes to recover from an illness or injury.

Related blog – how to boost your immunity with Ayurveda (

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