The Scary Truth About What Happens To Your Body When You're Stressed

Photo: Getty Images 
The Scary Truth About What Happens To Your Body When You're Stressed

I used to believe I had no stress in my life. I had very tight muscles in my shoulders and hardly ever felt relaxed, but I wasn't stressed. It took me a while to realize that I was tense because I was stressed out.

I had job stress (like everybody else), a commute, financial stresses, health stresses, so that when I became honest with myself, I realized that I was on stress-overload and I needed to make some changes, and fast.

That's the thing about stress — it can sneak up on you and do all kinds of damage without you catching on.

But what happens to your body when you're stressed?

Many of us fail to realize the damage we are doing to ourselves.

RELATED: How To Keep Your Stress Level Down & Immune System Up Until COVID-19 Is Contained

As a follow up to a study on stress which found that "people who are stressed have more difficulty with self-control and are more likely to choose to eat unhealthy food," the people at Time Magazine created an infographic highlighting some of the negative effects of stress on Americans.

The first part of the infographic is about how adults in the U.S. typically handle stress., noting the following statistics:

  • 42% say they don't do enough to manage their stress levels
  • 72% feel stressed about money at times
  • 41% have lost patience and/or yelled at their partner out of stress
  • 18% have done the same with a coworker

In another article on Medical Daily, experts discussed how the human body is hard-wired to react to stress in order to protect itself from threats and aggressors.

"When the body thinks there's a threat," they explain, "such as a barking dog on a morning run the hypothalamus (a tiny region at the base of the brain) sets off an alarm system."

The hormones adrenaline and cortisol then go into action, causing your heart rate to increase and sugar levels in your bloodstream to rise, weakening your immune system.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

So when these raging hormones seize control of your body, there can of course be harmful effects on your overall wellbeing.

RELATED: 5 Shocking Ways Stress Can Destroy Your Love Life

The second part of Time's infographic gets into the specifics of what happens to your body when you're stressed.

These are 8 of the most common negative effects stress can have on your physical health:

  1. Your breathing may quicken, potential triggering asthma or panic attacks.
  2. Your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol increases.
  3. Your may experience erectile dysfunction or a lowered libido.
  4. Your liver may produce excess glucose, putting you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  5. Your menstrual cycle may become irregular or stop for a time.
  6. Your muscles may tense up, causing tension headaches and other pain throughout your body.
  7. You may experience difficulty with self-control. In particular, you may be more prone to make poor food choices.
  8. You may experience nausea, ulcers, and/or sever stomach pains.

Now is the time for self-care and managing the damaging effects of stress.

Make a healthy diet and exercise a priority, and get enough sleep. Try adding in a walk daily and practice breathing exercises to lower blood pressure and stimulate the nervous system, which helps calm the body and mind.

The best thing you can do is to take breaks and do whatever you can to calm down and relax. De-stressing is the key to feeling better and living longer.

RELATED: How To Deal With Stress & Turn It Into Your Own Superpower

Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and teacher who loves writing and performing personal narratives. She's had pieces in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Woman's Day, Purple Clover, Bustle, and is a regular contributor to Ravishly and YourTango. Check out her website or her Facebook page.

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on August 31, 2015 and was updated with the latest information.