As a student here at Penn State, I believe that I can speak for all of us when I say that we have all felt overwhelmed at some point in our lives due to built up stress. This stress may come from a social situation, an issue with family, or extreme stress from schoolwork. I’m sure many of us have felt the mental strain that stress has on us, some may have even gotten to the point where it feels like our head is about to explode. Certainly, if you have reached that level on the stress meter, you have also experienced the effects that extreme stress has on your mood. What many people don’t consider, though, is what a strong negative impact extreme stress will have on your body.
According to this article from WebMD, your body is wired to acknowledge stress and react to it. This can be a positive thing, helping you to become aware of danger and helping you to feel urgency toward things like deadlines and assignments. However, it can become harmful to your body if it is constantly dealing with stress, with no break to recover from the challenges you were facing.
Even if you do not realize it, the stress you experience plays a toll on your body in an alarming number of ways. Some of the most common results are to get a stomachache, to get a headache, and to experience aches and pains especially in your neck and back. So many people immediately think these symptoms are from sitting in one spot for too long, from skipping a meal, or having nervous pre-test jitters. However, these effects are direct results of putting your body under too much stress, not just from sitting in an uncomfortable library chair for too long. It is also common for someone under a lot of stress to have trouble sleeping, only worsening the toll your body has to endure.
Aside from negative effects that can affect your day-to-day life, chronic stress can have a major negative impact on your long-term health. Extreme stress can have a serious impact on the following:
- Immune System- First and foremost, people who undergo chronic stress have weaker immune systems, and therefore are more susceptible to infectious diseases like the flu and the common cold. Because of your damaged immune system, it will take your body longer than the average person to fight off a common infection.
- Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems- The hormones released during periods of extreme stress directly affect both your respiratory and cardiovascular system. Your body’s response to stress will cause you to breathe faster and therefore cause your heart to pump faster. If this happens for too long or too frequently, you may be raising your risk for a stroke or heart attack.
- Muscular System- When your body is under stress, its natural response is to tense up. When your muscles are constantly tight with no chance to relax, it can cause extreme back and shoulder pains, headaches, and body aches that need to be relieved using medication.
- Digestive System- When you are breathing more rapidly, have more hormones, and a faster heart rate your digestive system will be effected. Those under extreme stress are likely to experience nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and acid reflux.
- Sexuality and Reproductive Systems- Although men and women have very different bodies, extreme stress will affect both genders in this aspect. For women, chronic stress may alter the menstrual cycle, worsening and causing irregularity in the symptoms. For men, extreme stress will cause a decrease in testosterone, and also increasing the risk for infections in the prostate, urethra, or testes.
- Nervous and Endocrine Systems- Chronic stress can often result in irritability, depression, and anxiety. As a result, some people then suffer from alcoholism, eating disorders, or social withdrawal.
As a grade school and high school student, I never felt that I was under a tremendous amount of stress. Upon beginning my studies here at Penn State, I learned what real stress felt like. My grades are always and have always been my priority, however it is also important to fin time for yourself and remember to have fun, because sadly we are only here for four short years. It has certainly been a battle dealing with the extreme stress levels associated with getting good grades, choosing a major program, adjusting to living on my own, and so many other factors that I’m sure we all face. As my sophomore year rolled around, I realized that you really can worry yourself sick. When you let your mind wander and stress too much, especially about things that you cannot control, you are only hurting yourself. What I learned is that nobody is perfect, and your priority always should be to take care of yourself. When your mom calls you on the phone nagging about if you’ve been getting enough sleep and if you’ve been eating real food besides Raman and coffee, she isn’t just bugging you for the heck of it. Many of us forget that in order to be successful, you need to be healthy and up to your full potential. Being that we are all students here, I know that we all strive to be successful. It is important to always take care of yourself, and not to beat yourself up too much if you don’t succeed.
If you’re interested in how to relieve stress and maintain a healthy balance, check out my follow-up blog!