Stress causes your body’s endocrine, nervous, physical systems to react. All of these responses stem from your, autonomic nervous system (ANS). Your ANS is a network of nerves reaching out from your spinal cord to every organ in your body. There are two branches of the ANS, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic, which have opposite effects.

Your sympathetic ANS is responsible for your “flight or fight” reaction when presented with a stressful situation. Long story short, when you are presented with a stressful situation, your body produces corticoids to help acquire energy from your body and epinephrine, adrenaline, to heighten your bodies responses. This physiological response causes:

  • Heart rate increases and heart increases its strength of contraction to pump more blood
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Digestion slows so the much needed blood may be diverted to muscles
  • Salivation and mucous secretion decreases – the result is a “cotton mouth” feeling
  • Pupils dilate so that you have a more sensitive vision
  • All of your senses – sight, hearing, smell, and taste – become more acute, ready to identify any threat
  • Sweating increases to flush waste and to cool down the body

In a person who is at a healthy stress level, after their sympathetic ANS has taken action, their parasympathetic ANS kicks in causing them to relax by decreasing heart rate and relaxing blood vessels. But when a person is experiencing a constant high level of stress, their sympathetic ANS is always in drive, causing them to be unable to relax. When your parasympathetic ANS is unable to take control you begin to experience high levels of stress and your body loses the ability to relax in-between these periods.

Although a healthy level of stress can be beneficial to the body, when stress becomes too much and the body begins to face negative mental, emotional and physiological affects, and stress becomes “distress.” As distress related tension begins to build, your body can develop a variety of negative side-effects. Since the effects of stress related hormones are designed to be short-term, when the body experiences them for long periods of time it can cause long term health problems.

A recent study showed that “43% of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.” Some of the more common side effects from stress are headaches, upset stomachs, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, anxiety, and sleeping problems. Research also shows that these short-term side effects experienced over a period of time can cause illness or a worsening of an existing condition. Similarly, people who experience high levels of stress are at a higher risk for cardiovascular problems later in life as well as permanently higher blood pressure.


Infographic provided by to illustrate stress effects on the body.

Common Effects of stress…
As shown above, too much stress can impact your body causing:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle Pain
  • Chest Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach Problems
  • Sleep Problems
  • Lowered Immune System

Stress can also negatively impact your mood by causing:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of Focus
  • Irritation
  • Anger
  • Depression

Stress can also change impact your behavior causing:

  • Overeating
  • Under eating
  • Anger Issues
  • Withdrawal
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse

As you can see your body is primed to respond to stress, but if your body is stressed too often and unable to relax, you can cause permanent negative effects on your body.  So take the time to relax so your body can work properly.  Being a Type A person, relaxing can be difficult for me, and is more of learned skill than a natural occurrence.  However, over time I have learned the importance of taking time to have fun and relax.

So here is me telling you to take time to relax and let your body destress before it becomes distressed.  Because I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t need any more stress in my not so normal life!


Sarah Brocker

Hi my name is Sarah Brocker and I have Crohn's Disease. I've got 8 scars and am missing two feet of intestines and my life isn't normal, but whose life is normal? I want to use my experiences to help you, even if it means sharing embarrassing experiences. I am also looking to break the stigmas associated with IBD in order to make living with IBD just a little bit easier. All I want to do is help, so please, let ME help YOU!

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