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It’s normal to feel stressed sometimes, but if you always feel under-the-pump it can have a really negative impact on your mind and body. This is because stress is supposed to be a short-term response to danger and not a constant state of being. If you know the signs that you’re experiencing stress, you’ll be better placed to keep it under control.

Is stress always bad?

Feeling stressed can be normal, healthy and helpful – depending on the situation. Stress is the fight-or-flight response that gets you through job interviews, impromptu speeches and those awkward encounters with your ex. In these situations, stress helps you to overcome a short-term challenge that you know you can handle. It’s only a problem when it’s constant or the situation is out of your control. At times like these, it’s important to know how to cope with stress.

What are the signs of stress?

When your body senses danger, it releases stress hormones that cause short-term physical changes. These changes help you to stay focused and alert until things are under control. However, if stress is constant and these changes persist, they can lead to serious problems in the long term.

what stress does to the body infographic

Read the transcript.

Nervous system

When your stress response doesn’t stop firing, it can cause you to feel worried, nervous or unable to switch off. This can lead to tension headaches and migraines. Chronic stress can wear you down and lead to more serious mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.

Respiratory system

When you’re stressed, your breathing quickens to send more oxygen around the body. If you have an existing respiratory condition such as asthma, this can make it harder to breathe. It can also lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks.

Cardiovascular system

Stress causes your heart to beat harder and faster so that it can pump more blood to your major organs and muscles. This will give you more strength to take action, but it can also raise your blood pressure. If that happens regularly, it puts a strain on your heart, which can lead to serious heart problems.

Digestive system

Your liver produces extra glucose when you’re under stress, to give you a boost of energy. If this happens regularly, your body will have trouble breaking down the extra glucose, leading to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Due to the rush of stress hormones, you could also get an upset stomach or have acid reflux from the increased stomach acid produced.

Reproductive system and sexuality

Stress is exhausting for your mind and body, so it’s common to have a reduced desire to have sex. If you’re under constant stress, this can also lead to fertility problems.

Muscular system

Since more blood is being pumped to your muscles, they tense up to prepare for the fight-or-flight response and to protect your body from injury. Usually your muscles release again, but if you’re always under stress, they might not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles can lead to back, neck and shoulder pain, headaches and body aches.

Immune system

Your body’s stress response stimulates the immune system, which can help in healing wounds and injuries. Over time, though, the stress response can weaken your immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to catching infections and getting sick. It also takes you longer to recover from illnesses.

Integumentary system (skin and hair)

When your body produces more stress hormones, it causes an increase in oil production. Your skin becomes more sensitive and oily, which over time can cause acne.

Hair loss can also be linked to high stress levels.

What can you do about it?

Learning about the effects of stress on the body and how to manage stress will help you to feel happier and healthier in the long run. Coping with stress is about trying to solve the problems that are within your control and learning to accept the things you can’t change. We’ve come up with four questions to ask yourself the next time you’re feeling stressed, to help you decide on your next move.

What can I do now?