The Psychological effects of stress

When you experience a life change or demand, the sympathetic nervous system sends messages to muscles, organs and glands, which help the body react. Powerful chemicals like adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone, and other neurotransmitters released by the adrenal glands and other organs, have multiple effects on the body:

  • Increased heart rate (causing increased need for blood flow to the heart)
  • Increased blood pressure (increased tension in blood vessel walls)
  • Blood vessel spasming
  • Heart rhythm disturbances
  • Increased stomach acid which can lead to stomach pain, indigestion and heartburn
  • Decreased blood flow to the stomach and intestines with decreased ability to digest foods
  • Increased muscle tension which can lead to headache, neck and backaches
  • Increased blood clotting and thickness
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Short, shallow breathing
  • Abnormalities in immune functioning
  • Fluid retention

These effects are adaptive in the short term and help a person prepare for dealing with the stress. When stress is chronic, these physical reactions can lead to disease. For a person with coronary heart disease, for example, some of these effects can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations and coronary artery spasm and sudden blockages of coronary arteries (i.e., angina, irregular heartbeats or a heart attack). Other stress- related illnesses can include insomnia, sexual dysfunction, hyperactivity, ulcers, chronic headaches, backaches and high blood pressure.