The Physiological Effects Of Long-term Stress And Anxiety
June 18, 2021 | Farah Jassawalla

The Physiological Effects Of Long-term Stress And Anxiety

We have all experienced stress and anxiety throughout our lives, it is a completely normal and inevitable part of life. However, if this stress and anxiety last for long periods and no professional help is sought, they can cause physiological harm to the whole body. In this article, we are going to discuss the major effects of long-term stress.

It is important to note that most of these are caused by a hormone released during stressful situations called cortisol. It triggers our fight or flight response and controls our reaction to the stressful stimulus. However, long-term stress and anxiety can have significant adverse effects on the body. Here’s how stress and anxiety can affect individual organs or systems in the body:

1.    the heart:

Stress causes an increase in heart rate, as we all know. But long term stress has the power to cause real harm to the heart muscle’s cells especially because they may not be getting enough oxygen supply during periods of high heart rate. Moreover, it may even influence the way our bodies clot blood and increase our risk of developing blood clots and subsequently, heart attacks or strokes.

2.    the respiratory system:

Stress or anxiety makes you breathe ‘harder’, i.e. with more force on the chest muscles and at a higher pace. Both of these changes affect the total oxygen levels in our lungs and consequently in our bodies. It also causes real strain on the respiratory system as a whole, especially for patients with preexisting breathing problems like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders.

3.    the digestive system:

We have serotonin receptors inside our digestive system so if we are stressed, anxious or depressed for long periods, and we lack the serotonin hormone, our digestive system will know instantly. Most people with long-standing stress have a constantly upset stomach and suffer from diarrhea or constipation. Some people go as far as to say that this is the reason we have a ‘gut feeling’.

4.    the brain and nervous system:

Consistently high levels of cortisol mean that the brain is always in survival mode. This translates into a lack of long-term planning skills, critical thinking skills, and rational decision-making in people. It may also lead to insomnia, headaches, racing thoughts, and restlessness. In other words, the parts of our brain that deal with immediate threat resolution are active, and the parts that involve wisdom and rationale are stunted.

5.    the muscles and bones:

When the body is stressed mentally and all of the aforementioned physiological changes are occurring, we must remember that all of our energy is going into fighting the threat, which in the case of long-term stress, is never over. This means that our muscles, bones, and joints will not be getting enough nutrition and oxygen through the blood. As a result, it is common to develop consistent body aches, fatigue, and lack of motivation to move.

6.    the reproductive system:

Stress in women can cause issues in the uterus, ovaries, or anywhere else in the reproductive system. The most common manifestation is the long delay or complete stop in the monthly menstrual periods. This may lead to further stress and anxiety in patients who are trying to conceive and are no longer able to.

As is evident by now stress and anxiety, if left untreated, will create actual physiological changes inside the body which will end up making the patient more stressed and this vicious cycle will continue. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing such symptoms, please seek medical help as soon as possible. Book your online appointment with Shifa4U right now for professional advice and treatment.

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Farah Jassawalla

Farah Jassawalla is a graduate of the Lahore School of Economics. She is also a writer, and healthcare enthusiast, having closely observed case studies while working with Lahore's thriving general physicians at their clinics.