Health And Wellness

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

Photo: GaudiLab / Shutterstock
busy woman 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, and health stresses, so when I became honest with myself, I realized that I was on stress-overload and I needed to make some changes — 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: 14 Ways To Relieve Stress In 5 Minutes Or Less

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:

1. 42 percent say they don't do enough to manage their stress levels

2. 72 percent feel stressed about money at times

3. 41 percent have lost patience and/or yelled at their partner out of stress

4. 18 percent have done the same with a coworker

In another article, 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, such as a barking dog on a morning run," the piece explained, "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.

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

RELATED: 3 Simple Mindfulness Techniques To Reduce Stress In Seconds

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, potentially triggering asthma or panic attacks.

2. Your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol increases.

3. You 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 Use CBD For Stress Relief & Better Sleep

Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and astrology lover. She has written many articles on women's health and sex lives. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or and her Instagram.

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