It’s not a word that makes most of us feel elated or excited. However, stress, by design, is the body’s way of signaling for help or a break in the routine. If we don’t listen to these signals, we can develop imbalances in our bodies, which can then lead to illnesses.
The dictionary defines stress in multiple ways, but there is only one that matters when we discuss how stress affects our physical bodies. The definition is this,
“stress is a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension”.
The definition itself indicates stress can affect our bodies.
One of the most visible way stress affects our bodies is our appearance. People who are under chronic pressure and stress tend to look older and fatigued. This happens because cortisol, the stress hormone in our bodies, builds up, which then increases the amount of free radicals in skin cells. Free radicals damage the skin cells causing them to become dull and dehydrated. Women typically show this more than men.
Another big player in the stress game is digestion. Many people today suffer from heartburn and upset stomach on a regular basis. These symptoms can be caused by excess stress. Stress causes the body to alter gastrointestinal motility by moving blood normally used in the digestive process, away from your belly and midsection, as part of the “fight or flight” response that usually occurs when you are stressed. Thus, the lack of blood and fluids in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to increases in stomach acid, causing stomach upset and heartburn.
Minor stress will stimulate the immune system which helps us heal from illness and disease. However, chronic stress can actually compromise the immune system, once again due to the cortisol hormone. Chronic stress sufferers tend to get sick more often and the illnesses may last longer. This is also a factor in people who develop terminal illnesses like cancer.
Excess stress can cause your heart to work too hard and usually for too long a period. These factors can then lead to sustained increased blood pressures or hypertension. Hypertension puts more stress on your blood vessels, which can increase your possibility of a stroke or heart attack.
Chronic stress can also be detrimental to your muscles and can then lead to chronic aches and pains. Muscles are supposed to tense up when under stress. But when you are constantly stressed, the muscles never get the chance to completely relax. Tight muscles result in headaches, back, neck and shoulder pain. Over time, those tight muscles and chronic pain can cause many to seek pain relief through prescription pain medications.
That’s the bad news. The good news is you can address and treat stress naturally. Getting proper nutrition and removing stressors will help greatly. Acupuncture is also a wonderful tool for fighting stress. As few as two needles can reset your body and decrease your daily stress levels. Another method is to couple acupuncture with practices like qigong, tai chi, and/or meditation.