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What does stress do to your body?

Stress is an inevitable part of modern life that we all encounter. When stressed, we usually experience heart pounding and faster breathing. This is known as “Fight or Flight” response and originated as a survival mechanism in life-or-death scenarios (HarvardHealth, 2020). However, we respond the same in far less threatening situations like traffic jams or important work meetings, where such an extreme reaction may be unnecessary. But it is part of our primitive nervous system response which we can’t control. Then what can we do to better regulate our reaction to stress? And what is stress exactly and how much is too much?

Musculoskeletal system

When we get stressed, our muscles immediately tense up. This readies us to escape from harm if we’re in danger. However, when experiencing chronic stress or regular stressful situations, our muscles remain tense. In this case, we feel all sorts of bodily pains, for example, lower back pain (commonly linked to job stress), neck and shoulder pain or even tension-type headaches and migraines (APA, 2023).

Respiratory and cardiovascular system

Stressors have an effect on our respiratory and cardiovascular systems too: they cause heavy breathing and a surge in heart rate. Even though this serves a function: it makes it easier for oxygen to reach our muscles, it also causes us to struggle with concentrating or problem-solving. Psychological stressors can be linked to breathing problems for people with pre-existing respiratory diseases, for example, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Because of the disruption to breathing and heart rate, chronic stress can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases (APA, 2023).

Endocrine system

The brain flags any stressful situation as “danger”. If we are in actual danger, this is great, but not if it is triggered by any minor daily stress. This false alarm activated by our brains leads to an increased production of hormones, including cortisol, which is often called “the stress hormone”. While these hormones are important for regulating the immune system and reducing inflammation, a random or continued overproduction of them will confuse the body and can lead to developing health conditions such as chronic fatigue, diabetes, obesity, depression or immune disorders (APA, 2023). Also, producing more stress hormones than needed can cause burnout called adrenal fatigue.


Chronic stress influences the gut bacteria, which can lead to reduced appetite, nausea, bloating, cramps and slow digestion. This prompts some people to seek comfort in overeating (“stress eating”) while leaving others with no appetite at all. All these unnatural changes in appetite affect our gut health and mood.

How can we reduce stress?

When our nervous system is well regulated our stress response shifts more easily from the "Fight or Flight" to "Rest and Digest". We discussed tips on mental health management in our blog. If you’re looking for support, you can contact Rough Patch: they offer an array of services including counselling and referrals. Click here to get in touch.

Our chiropractors can also help relax your nervous system by doing specific chiropractic adjustments. Don’t forget you can also combine this with a massage or some acupuncture for stress relief. These treatments can help you boost your mood and well-being. Book in for an appointment today.


  1. Stress Effects On The Body, American Psychological Association, 2023

  2. Understanding The Stress Response, Harvard Health Publishing,, 2020


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