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How does stress affect the body?

What is the definition of stress?

In a study conducted by Sanprobi, Poles cite stress as one of the most common emotions accompanying them. Stress is a subjective phenomenon, and for each of us it may mean something different, but in general it is defined as a state of burdening the psychological regulation system, arising in the situation of threat, hindrance or impossibility of achieving important goals, tasks or values. It is a state of imbalance in the body. Nowadays it is mainly presented as a negative phenomenon, while stress itself is a natural reaction of the organism, which has accompanied man since the beginning of his existence.

In earlier periods of evolutionary development, stress made it possible to survive in difficult conditions, whereas nowadays its mechanism is disproportionate to the threats of the external world. As a result of stimulation of defense mechanisms, the expected reaction connected with undertaking physical effort almost never occurs. Consequently, stress is currently defined as the body's reaction to various demands that stand in our way.

In a stressful situation, all human internal systems are activated, the secretion of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol increases. Heart rate and breathing accelerates, muscle tension increases, anxiety, irritability and increased alertness appear.

Role of stress

As mentioned above, originally stress was a mechanism for survival in difficult conditions and worked on the principle of rapid response to danger. Nowadays we distinguish between different types of stress. Eustress is a mobilizing stress, which motivates and stimulates us to perform a task. Thanks to it we face everyday challenges. The second type is dystress, or destructive stress, which makes us doubt our abilities, become less creative and have problems with concentration. Stress is positive and necessary up to a certain level (short-term stress), called the optimal stress level, which is different for each person. Above this level it becomes harmful to the body (chronic stress) both on a psychological and physical level, and long-term exposure to stressors can cause anxiety, panic attacks or even depression.

Stress and pain

We have already learned that stress affects our body on both a mental and physical level. People under stress complain of backaches, sleep problems, fatigue and sluggishness, headaches and migraines, and muscle numbness, among other things. People experiencing chronic stress have their bodies in a constant state of readiness - stress hormone levels are high, muscles are tense and blood pressure is elevated. The stomach increases the secretion of digestive acids, which irritate the mucous membranes causing abdominal pain and heartburn. Moving on,

mood influences muscle tone, energy level, and sense of inner well-being, so body posture reveals the current mental state.

Experiencing stress is manifested by, among other things, bending the back and leaning the shoulders toward each other, a tendency to shift the body's weight to the toes or (less frequently) to the heels, clenching of the buttocks and anus, clenching of the jaw and mouth, and clenching of the hands. General muscle tone is also increased, peripheral blood circulation decreases, resulting in cooling of the hands, feet, tip of the nose, ears. The way of breathing changes: the diaphragm is blocked and the abdominal muscles are squeezed, there is a tendency to shallow breathing, during which the ribs or clavicles primarily move.

We look for a solution in pharmaceuticals or stimulants, and sometimes it is enough to slow down and take care of our own well-being. It is worth learning and implementing ways to cope with stress and find one that is optimal for us. In the fight against stress, and thus with the ailments it causes, the most important thing is the ability to relax.

How does physical activity reduce stress?

If you go for a strenuous jog or bike ride, your cortisol levels will rise. This is because the workout itself is a form of stress for the body. Your muscles need more oxygen, so your breathing speeds up and your heart starts beating harder, pumping more blood to your muscles. This effect of cortisol is not only normal, but actually necessary to meet the challenge.

After a workout, your body doesn't need as much stress anymore, so cortisol drops to lower levels than before you started physical activity. If you train regularly, cortisol will be produced gradually in smaller and smaller amounts with each workout.

And now the most important thing: if you engage in physical recreation on a regular basis, cortisol will not rise as much even if the stress is from a cause other than training.

A dose of workout for stress

You may now ask the question: how intensely should you exercise to get rid of stress? Everyone reacts differently, so it's important to find the optimal form of exercise for you. I don't have golden advice for everyone, but below are some specific tips.

  • First: focus on fitness training. Most studies suggest that when you are stressed, this type of workout will be most beneficial. Try to move a minimum of 20 minutes a day, and 30-45 minutes if possible.

  • If possible, choose recreational physical activity such as cycling or jogging outdoors-exposure to the sun stimulates the production of serotonin, known as the "happy hormone."

  • Make exercise a habit, as the effects are visible only after some time of regular exercise.

  • Try at least 2-3 times a week to make your heart rate accelerate. The body will then learn that an elevated pulse does not signal danger. This is especially important if you have anxiety or panic attacks.

  • Choose interval training once a week; there is much evidence that it relieves anxiety to a great extent. Remember to gradually increase the intensity and don't start out too hard.

Other ways to cope with stress

  • Calming therapies - meditation, autogenic Schultz training, Jacobson training (available on Youtube)

  • Regular and quality sleep

  • A nutritious and "clean" diet

  • The ability to rest:

*if you sit all day - rest in motion!

*If you spend all day indoors - relax outdoors!


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