Side Affects of Stress on the Body

What is Stress?

Stress is any factor that threatens our physical or mental well being. Such factors can be imagined (worry about the future) or real (Financial problems) it is not the factor itself that is damaging but the response to it. Some people live very stressful lives but manage stress so well that it does not affect them for others even the slightest worry can have damaging consequences.

There are two types of stress negative and positive. Positive stress is necessary for some people because it helps to perform to the best of their abilities for example sports people or actors, positive stress can help you to focus and concentrate. Negative stress is any factor that causes us to worry or panic losing our concentration.

The body has always had to respond to stress, thousands of years ago, stress factors were more physical. Humans needed to hunt for food, protect themselves from wild animals and secure shelter. In the 21st century stress factors are more intangible. E.g. Job insecurity worrying about relationship difficulties or irritation about traffic jams. However the effects of stress are exactly the same whether the threat is an angry boss or an angry buffalo!

The body perceiving danger, prepares to face it or run away (the fight or flight syndrome). Several systems shut down and the body works to conserve energy to enable movement and escape. Adrenaline rushes into the body to warn of impending danger and the heart rate increases, the blood vessels contract increasing blood pressure, the digestive functions shut down and the muscles contract.

If the perceived danger is then either removed or escaped from, the stress response has achieved its aim and the body relaxes. However in modern times it is not easy to get away from the source of the stress. Most stress factors today cannot be run away from, it is very difficult for an office worker to run away from an annoying colleague or problem or to avoid the everyday traffic jams or financial worries.

As a result the body remains tense, cannot relax out of fight or flight mode and it is this unused physical response that is damaging, if a person continues to feel stress but does nothing to remove it or change their response to it, the stress reaction can be damaging. The body remains in a state of alert and eventually this will have a physical effect on the systems concerned.

Anyone who has been nervous about an interview, exam meeting or important event has felt some of the symptoms of stress. These include; churning stomach or butterflies, racing heart or palpitations, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, trembling, insomnia, sweating. In the medium term these symptoms left untreated (not removing or changing the way we deal with the cause) may cause; chest pains, allergies, persistent insomnia, high blood pressure, abdominal pains, migraines, depression, ulcers, asthma and infections. In the long term constant stress is known to cause heart disease, strokes, cancer and angina.

The Effects of Stress on the Body

If you’re alive, you’ve got stress. Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to both good and bad experiences that can be beneficial to your health and safety. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones and increasing your heart and breathing rates. Your brain gets more oxygen, giving you an edge in responding to a problem. In the short term, stress helps you cope with tough situations.

Stress can be triggered by the pressures of everyday responsibilities at work and at home. As you might expect, negative life events like divorce or the death of a loved one cause stress. So can physical illness. Traumatic stress, brought on by war, disaster, or a violent attack, can keep your body’s stress levels elevated far longer than is necessary for survival.
Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and can affect your overall health and well-being.

Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems

Your central nervous system (CNS) is in charge of your “fight or flight” response. The CNS instantly tells the rest of your body what to do, marshaling all resources to the cause. In the brain, the hypothalamus gets the ball rolling, telling your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. When the perceived fear is gone, the CNS should tell all systems to go back to normal. It has done its job. If the CNS fails to return to normal, or if the stress doesn’t go away, it takes a toll on your body. Symptoms of chronic stress include irritability, anxiety, and depression. You may suffer from headaches or insomnia. Chronic stress is a factor in some behaviour like overeating or not eating enough, alcohol or drug abuse, or social withdrawal.

Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems

Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the stress response, you breathe faster in an effort to distribute oxygen and blood quickly to your body core. If you have preexisting respiratory problems like asthma or emphysema, stress can make it harder to breathe. Your heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict and raise your blood pressure. All that helps get oxygen to your brain and heart so you’ll have more strength and energy to take action. Frequent or chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long, raising your risk of hypertension and problems with your blood vessels and heart. You’re at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack. The female hormone estrogen offers pre-menopausal women some protection from stress-related heart disease.


Under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. Unused blood sugar is reabsorbed by the body. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with this extra glucose surge, and you may be at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can upset your digestive system. You’re more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux. Stress doesn’t cause ulcers — a bacterium called H. pylori does — but stress may cause existing ulcers to act up. You might experience nausea, vomiting, or a stomachache. Stress can affect the way food moves through your body, leading to diarrhea or constipation.


Under stress, your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury. You’ve probably felt your muscles tighten up and release again once you relax. If you’re constantly under stress, your muscles don’t get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches. Over time, you may stop exercising and turn to pain medication, setting off an unhealthy cycle.


Stress is exhausting for the body and for the mind. It’s not unusual to lose your desire for sex when you’re under chronic stress. However, men may produce more of the male hormone testosterone during stress, which may increase sexual arousal in the short term.
For women, stress can affect the menstrual cycle. You might have irregular or no menstruation, or heavier and more painful periods. The physical symptoms of menopause may be magnified under chronic stress. If stress continues for a long time, a man’s testosterone levels begin to drop. That can interfere with sperm production and cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Chronic stress may make the urethra, prostate, and testes more prone to infection.

Immune System

Stress stimulates the immune system. In the short term, that’s a bonus. It helps you stave off infection and heal wounds. Over time, cortisol compromises your immune system, inhibiting histamine secretion and inflammatory response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like influenza and the common cold. It increases risk of other opportunistic diseases and infections. It can also increase the time it takes to recover from illness or injury.

How can Stress be cured?

Stress in itself cannot be “cured” because threats to our well being will always exist around us. However it is not the threat but the way it is perceived and responded to that is most important. If stress is managed, it is no longer damaging, e.g. if stuck in traffic one driver may become enraged whilst another will accept that it is a normal consequence in a busy area. The first driver is responding to stress the second is managing it. However the stress factor is the same.

How can Stress be managed?

By learning to respond in a healthier way and using relaxation techniques. We cannot simply tell our bodies to relax, the physical response to stress is on a sub conscious level, we have to learn how to relax them, via relaxing activities such as walking , seeing friends or going to the cinema as well as specific breathing techniques and massage.

How can massage Help?

When the body is stressed it must work harder than usual in order to remain balanced. Hence stressed people tend to over use conventional relaxation methods such as drinking and smoking in order to be calm. However, too much alcohol or nicotine can have an adverse effect on the body in the long run where as an holistic treatment such as massage can help to induce a deep relaxation, helping to remove the pent up tension of the stress response, without further damaging the body.
Furthermore, it’s easy to forget what normal relaxation feels like and clients are unaware of how much tension they hold in their body. By relaxing them properly, massage enables them to be more aware of what tension feels like which in turn enables them to release it, a reduction in the initial stress level leaves the client more able to deal with problems and events which will help to prevent an escalation in
stress, breaking the cycle.

How does massage treat stress and it effects?

Massage is a treatment that relies on touch, one of the most neglected senses. The touch sustained through a massage can boost self esteem and comfort the lonely or bereaved.

It boosts the immune system, which is weakened by constant stress, stimulates the circulation and the lymphatic system, increases energy levels and induces calm in mind and body. It releases endorphins the pain relieving happy hormones

It stimulates the para sympathetic nervous system, which slows the body down, encourages deeper breathing, lowers the heart rate and switches the digestion back on.

It relaxes all the systems of the bodies, which either shut down or speed up when stressed, and thus helps with stress related conditions such as insomnia, headaches, back ache and constipation.

It helps to treat depression and symptoms such as low self esteem by boosting well being which in turn increases self worth It stimulates the body’s natural ability to repair and renew at a cellular level.


No More Knots are based in Brynamman Wales if you would like to book a treatment please contact us here