This is going to be a short and sweet post. Going deep into physical effects, I think will only bring on more stress for people. I think if we can address the mental side of stress, it will take care of most physical effects.
In the last post, we discussed what stress does to us at the level of the brain. Now, I can’t stress enough of how this is not a linear process. The effects of stress on us can widely differ from one person to the next. Some of the physical symptoms that we can develop are: Weight loss/gain, frequent colds or getting sick, fidgeting or foot tapping, headaches, low sex drive, upset stomach (nausea) and diarrhea, trouble sleeping and tight muscles. These are just to name a few.
When it comes to weight loss and weight gain, there are many factors at play. I have seen people under a lot of stress start to put on weight and I have seen people lose lots of weight. Everyone is different. Some people “stress eat”. Maybe it is from an overactive amygdala that has impaired their prefrontal cortex and they make the bad decision of eating a whole sleeve of Oreo cookies (not saying if I have ever done that). Some people stop eating because of nausea, because they are constantly worrying and don’t feel like eating. There are also a lot of hormonal issues that are going on that can influence this as well.
Our immune system can be compromised when we are over-stressed. When cortisol is surging through our system, it reduces the number of lymphocytes we produce. Lymphocytes are our white blood cells, the guys that fight off bacteria and other pathogens.
People that are under a lot of stress often complain of their muscles being tight. It makes sense for our bodies to tense up. Muscles tend to tense up to protect themselves from pain or injury. If our sympathetic nervous system is on high alert and feels threatened, this is the right thing to do. Think about the last scary movie you watched. The teenagers in every horror movie ever made makes the worst possible decisions and you know what is going to happen to them. It’s like that GEICO commercial where 4 teens are running from a murder and one of them says “Let’s hide behind the chainsaws!” You know what is going to happen, you can feel your body start to tense up, even though the threat is not real.
This is just a short list of physical impacts of stress. As mentioned earlier, in my opinion, if we can help our brains out, everything else will fall into place.
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Next up: The 5 main areas of our life that can cause us stress.