Sometimes it’s easy to identify when your body feels stressed. Some people feel jittery or nervous, while others have more extreme reactions like sudden nausea or fainting. Nevertheless, what actually happens in your body to make it respond that way when you feel stressed? What happens when you don’t even know you’re stressed? This article will explore the basics of stress, what it is, how the body stores stress, and how to manage stress in healthy ways.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) explains, “Stress is a physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter challenges in life.” When stress is temporary and goes away after a particular event, like a test or work presentation, that is considered normal stress.
According to the article “Feeling Stressed?” by NIH News in Health, “Short-term stress can even help you perform—you’re more able to ace an interview or meet a project deadline. But when stress lasts a long time, it may also harm your health. Your body is constantly acting as if it were in immediate danger.”
The body is constantly sending signals to the brain and vice versa, notifying each other of what’s really going on. Sometimes the symptoms and signals are obvious, like when you have a cold. Other times, the symptoms aren’t as distinct, especially if you don’t know what to look for.
Consistent, chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body in multiple ways. In “Let’s Talk About Stress—and Stress Research,” Helene M. Langevin, M.D. describes the various ways chronic stress can impact the body. She explains,“…longstanding evidence from multiple areas of research demonstrates that chronic stress acts like a toxin, permeating our organs and cells and triggering a negative cascade on our hormones, sleep, muscles, metabolism, immune system, and inflammatory responses.”
Furthermore, NCCIH verifies that chronic stress “may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other symptoms. Stress may worsen asthma and has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.”
The effects that stress has on our nervous system can be significant. When we sense potential danger or threat, our brain sends signals to the rest of the body to activate the fight-or-flight response. This signals the body to pump cortisol and adrenaline so that we can survive the threat. Unfortunately, when intense stress becomes constant, the nervous system can get stuck in hyperarousal, where the body is always ready to fight or flee, even though there is no threat present.
This can greatly impact the digestive system, as fight-or-flight mode is meant to be temporary. Our bodies are not equipped to sustain that kind of constant stimulation. As a result, research shows that consistent stress can lead to digestive disturbances such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), weight loss/gain, stomach pain, or trouble with food digestion.
Additionally, the way the body stores stress can have a significant impact on mental and emotional health. Clear evidence of this can be seen in the symptoms displayed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains that PTSD can occur “when a person has experienced or witnessed a scary, shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event. These stressful or traumatic events usually involve a situation where someone’s life has been threatened or severe injury has occurred.”
As a result, some people experience unpleasant symptoms as their brain tries to comprehend what it’s seen. These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration and sometimes don’t present themselves for months or years following the traumatic event. While PTSD symptoms will vary from person to person, SAMHSA details that common symptoms can include:
Furthermore, SAMSHA adds, “Symptoms of anxiety, depression, and substance use also are seen with people who have PTSD.”
Though some stress is unavoidable, there are ways that it can be managed healthily. One way to healthily manage how your body stores stress is by maintaining your mental health. This can be accomplished by having regular check-ups with a licensed, professional counselor, like the ones at Sage Recovery. A counselor will be able to help you healthily process stress. Additionally, they will be able to equip you with tools that empower you to recognize your triggers and handle future stress healthily.
Some evidence-based therapeutic techniques that are commonly used at Sage Recovery to reduce stress symptoms include:
Another way to manage stress is through physical exercise. Research has proven that mental and physical health are closely intertwined. As a result, the healthier your body is, the healthier your mental state will be. It can be helpful for some to participate in relaxation techniques that incorporate both physical exercise and mindfulness. Examples of physical relaxation techniques include:
Learning to manage stress and anxiety can be difficult, especially if you’ve been living with them for a long time. Luckily, we can help. Here at Sage Recovery, our master’s-level clinicians are experts in equipping patients to healthily deal with the difficult circumstances life can throw your way. Whether you’re wanting to heal from trauma, anxiety, depression, or substance use, our customized treatment plans will ensure that you heal in the healthiest ways. We offer outpatient treatment for adults and adolescents, as well as residential treatment for adults. Whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to go through it alone. Contact us at (512) 306-1394 so we can walk alongside you as you heal.