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6 Ways Stress Affects the Body

stressed woman

Guest blogger, health coach and personal trainer, Danielle Reynolds talks about how stress affects the body and what you can do to address it.

Stress is your body’s natural response to potential danger which not only affects your mental well-being, but your physical and emotional health. If left untreated, stress can wreak havoc on multiple systems throughout your body, including your:

  • Muscular system

  • Immune system

  • Digestive system

  • Reproductive system

  • Endocrine system

Stress in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it protects you from harm’s way. However, in an overwhelming fast paced environment stress can become more chronic and less temporary, leading to a wide variety of health problems. I see this all of the time in my clients. Like so many people, they get in a rut of accepting chronic and high levels of stress as being “just part of life” and begin to wonder why they aren’t feeling well, are tired, having mood swings and possibly gaining weight.

How can you tell if stress is having a negative impact on your well-being? Your body is probably trying to tell you something but are you listening?

Here are 6 ways to tell if your body is asking for help!

1. You can’t sleep

sad woman

Almost everyone will agree that lack of sleep is not only exhausting physically but also mentally. No one feels good after getting less than a good night’s sleep and you may even begin feeling sick or run down, have difficulty focusing or concentrating, experience mood swings or need to take naps during the day.

Sleep is vital in maintaining normal body function. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains that sleep is a way for your body to remove toxins from your brain, maintain the ability to learn, create memories and concentrate. If you are not getting enough quality sleep, you may be increasing your risk for chronic medical problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity.

2. You aren’t making good food choices

french fries

When the body is under stress the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. This hormone not only increases appetite but causes higher insulin levels leading to low blood sugar and food cravings. You may notice that during times of stress you begin to crave unhealthy sugary and fatty foods.

Cortisol levels become elevated when your body feels threatened in some way…when you are in “fight-or-flight” mode. This may not seem like such a terrible thing, however, when your body is in a chronic state of stress, these high cortisol levels can lead to changes in weight, how your immune system fights invaders and increases your risk for developing chronic diseases.

Elevated levels of cortisol may increase your risk of developing certain chronic medical problems like:

  • Diabetes and blood sugar imbalances

  • Weight gain

  • Lowered immune system function

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Problems with fertility like erectile dysfunction and changes in menstruation and ovulation

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Thyroid disease

  • Depression

  • Dementia​

3. Problems with digestion


Many will argue that the gut is the source of balance for your body’s entire natural ecosystem. Thus, when your gut health is not optimal, your entire natural ecosystem is compromised.

Stress can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms and conditions like:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)

  • Food antigen-related problems

  • Development of certain ulcers including peptic ulcers

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

When it comes to gut health a good variety of robust flora is the goal!

4. You have tight muscles

tight muscles, chiropractor

Most people who are stressed explain that their body hurts. Their muscles are tense, cramped and tired. When the body is under stress our muscles tend to tighten up and often times do not easily release.

This type of muscle tension can cause symptoms like:

  • headaches

  • shoulder pain

  • generalized body aches

5. You are feeling depressed and/or anxious


Often times, when levels of stress are high or chronic, anxiety and depression may begin to creep in! Constantly dealing with stress can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and hopelessness. When stress negatively affects your mood, you may begin to experience relationship conflicts at home, at work or in other areas of your life.

6. Your skin is changing

While change may be good, not all change is wanted especially when your skin is affected! When high levels of cortisol are released by the body during time of stress, you may experience hormonal imbalances which can wreak havoc on your skin!

Stress can lead to temporary skin changes like acne and breakouts but can also worsen existing acne, eczema, psoriasis or weather related skin changes.

So now that you know what stress is doing to your body, what can you do about it? There are plenty of ways to manage stress and stress related symptoms but these are my favorites!


Physical activity is a great stress reducer and may help reduce tension, improve mood and self-esteem and help with sleep, even in as little as 5 minutes of aerobic exercise. When a person exercises, there is a chemical reaction within the body’s stress hormones. During exercise, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are lowered and the body’s feel good hormones (endorphins) are released.

In fact, when the body becomes sedentary, it cannot cope with stress as effectively. The American Psychological Association explains that exercise makes the body’s organ systems communicate more effectively and deal with stress in a better way.

Get Enough Sleep

When stressed, your body needs additional sleep to recover. While not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, we all need it in some form and need to feel well rested. For most adults, 7-9 hours is recommended.

If you are having trouble sleeping due to anxiety, worry and stress try things like:

  • Meditation

  • Warm showers or baths

  • Soothing scents like lavender or Roman chamomile- get more info on essential oils from Tara!

  • Dim lighting

  • Weighted blankets

Make Healthy Food Choices

Eating healthy isn’t only reserved for stressful events- it’s a lifestyle change that is beneficial during all times of life. However, eating a well-balanced diet fill of real foods is especially important during stressful times.

Pay attention to what is fueling your body during times of stress. Keep healthy energy-boosting snacks on hand in your bag, car or desk so you can avoid hitting up the vending machine or pulling through the drive thru at lunch.

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

You may be inclined to have a glass of wine when you are feeling stressed out or a cup of coffee when you have had a rough night sleep, but it can actually make things worse. Instead try increasing your water intake.

Not a fan of water? Add fresh, organic herbs, fruits and or veggies for a delicious and natural flavor!

Remember to Breathe

When stressed, we sometimes are so tense that we forget to let our bodies breathe naturally. Instead we stiffen our upper bodies, tighten the core (abdominal muscles) and hold our breath.

Remember to take deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly with intention throughout the days when you feel most stressed.

Count to 10

It may sound silly, but slowly counting to 10 can help decrease the effects of stress immediately! Give it a try!

Take a Timeout

You can’t effectively manage stress if your tank is on E! Take some time for yourself and practice yoga, meditate, get a massage, listen to music or spend time in nature. Anyone can learn how to bring more relaxation into their daily routine- you just have to find what works for you!

Talk to Someone

Reach out to family, friends, your therapist or a life coach when you are feeling overwhelmed. During difficult times it’s important to have human connection and outside support. In cases where you are experiencing extreme responses to stress like severe anxiety, depression or feelings like you could hurt yourself or others, contact your physician or 911 for immediate help.

So what does a health coach do when she’s stressed? Two last little tips that I personally use often in addition to the above tips include:

  • Put things into perspective by reminding yourself that you can’t control everything and,

  • Maintain a positive attitude by replacing your negative thoughts with positive ones

As a health coach and personal trainer, I can help you:

  • Make better food choices

  • Find a workout routine that works for you

  • Help you lower stress through healthy lifestyle choices

  • Maintain optimal weight

  • Improve quality of life through healthy lifestyle changes

  • Educate you on self-care and relaxation

Contact me to get started on your journey!

Danielle Reynolds

Holistic Health Coach and Personal Trainer


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