A state of chronic stress has negative effects on our health due to the neuroendocrine changes that are generated. The first symptoms to appear are changes in the emotional state, but the consequences of stress can affect practically any part of the body.
Emotional, cognitive and behavioral effects
On the emotional level, stress causes anxiety , inability to relax, moodiness, irritability, lack of motivation and, in more advanced stages, depression that can become severe.
It is common to alternate episodes in which you sleep a lot with episodes of very little sleep. The state of nervousness tends to make you eat more , but usually worse . It can also make you neglect responsibilities, get into a social isolation and even start or increase the use of alcohol, tobacco or medication to get relax.
The state of irritability and sadness, together with these behavioral changes, can have negative consequences on social and family relationships .
On the cognitive plane, there is an inability to concentrate and memory problems may arise . It can lead to a detriment in judgment capacity and generate a constant state of worry and negativity.
The changes in the nervous system and in the endocrine system that occur in the stress response are intended for situations of short duration, but maintained for long periods of time has negative effects on many organs and systems.
Among the most outstanding effects we can mention:
Musculoskeletal system : chronic stress creates high levels of muscle tension maintained for long periods of time. It can lead to side effects, such as dizziness and migraine, due to constant muscle tension in the neck and shoulder area.
Respiratory system : the difficulty to breathe that causes stress can be a problem not remarkable for most people but it can be more serious in patients suffering from a lung disease, such as COPD, asthma or emphysema. In the case of intense acute stress, hyperventilation can occur in even asthma attacks.
Cardiovascular system : acute stress, for example driving and braking urgently to avoid an accident, causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This is mainly due to the effect of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These effects maintained over time increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, heart attacks or strokes . In women, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases after menopause ; This is due to the higher levels of estrogen before menopause that help the blood vessels respond better to stress.
Endocrine system : before stress, the hypothalamus stimulates the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary gland begins to release epinephrine and cortisol, known as stress hormones , responsible for most effects of stress. It also stimulates the release of epinephrine in the adrenal glands. At higher levels of cortisol and epinephrine, the liver releases more glucose into the blood. The body can cope with this increase in blood glucose, even in situations of recurrent stress maintained. But in people sensitive to type 2 diabetes, it can be a triggering factor .
Digestive system : changes in eating habits may favor the appearance of esophageal reflux, especially if alcohol and tobacco consumption increase. The brain becomes more sensitive to sensations in the stomach and sensations of tingling, nausea and even pain may be experienced. Chronic stress favors the appearance of ulcers and pain from spasms. In addition, it can produce both diarrhea and constipation, both effects can alternate.
Nervous System : The Autonomic Nervous System is directly involved in the physical effects of stress, especially the Sympathetic System, which stimulates the release of stress hormones. In the long term, the constant activation of stress responses, causes fatigue and is responsible for the lack of motivation, irritability and most emotional effects associated with chronic stress.
Male reproductive system : stress, through the nervous system, stimulates the production of testosterone. In the long term, it can affect the production of sperm and the maturation of sperm. It can also cause erectile dysfunction.
Female reproductive system : Stress can affect the menstrual cycle and cause irregularities, absences, changes in duration and painful menstruation. In addition, it can worsen the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome , such as fluid retention, spasms or emotional changes. The hormonal changes that occur during menopause are related to anxiety and are a stressor in itself.