There are different systems in our body that are responsible for the smooth functioning of the same as a whole.  When stressed, there are different systems that get affected.

Here are the reactions that the different systems of the body undergo when a person is subjected to stress:

Musculoskeletal system:  Under stress, the muscles tense up, a mechanism against pain or injury.  The muscles relax when the stress eases out.  That may be the case in acute stress and it may be episodic, in the episodic stress but the tautness of muscles may continue for a long period in chronic stress.  Relaxation techniques have proved to reduce this tautness and tension in muscles.

Respiratory system:  Breathing becomes hard, especially for those people who have lung diseases or suffer from asthma.  In some instances, death of a close person may trigger off such attacks too.  Stress also causes rapid breathing.

Cardiovascular system:  Acute stress may bring about increased heart rate as well as stronger muscular contractions of the heart.  There is dilation in the blood vessels that direct blood to the heart.  The blood that is pumped into the body is increased and there is an elevation in blood pressure too.  This is generally called the ‘fight or flight’ response.  Once the acute stress episode passes away, the body regains its composure.

In chronic stress cases, the person experiences long term problems in blood vessels and the heart.  There is fluctuation in the heart rate, stress hormones are elevated, and blood pressure is elevated.  There is ample risk for getting hypertension or falling prey to a cardiac arrest.

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However, this may not be the case for women as it depends on how close or over she is her menopausal phase.  Estrogen levels seem to protect her during stressful times and hence women prove to be better handlers of stress when compared to their male counterparts.  Postmenopausal women however are not as efficient as their premenopausal counterparts as there is loss of the hormone estrogen post menopause.

Endocrine system:  Cortisol and epinephrine are produced from adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla respectively.  They give the body the capacity to respond to danger.  The liver, because of these hormones, produces more of glucose.  More blood sugar gives the body adequate energy to tackle in an emergency.

Gastrointestinal system:  When under stress, what you eat may not get digested easily and will turn into acid reflux or heartburn.  One may experience butterflies in the stomach or pain or nausea when stressed.  Stress is also found to have an effect of digestion.  People may suffer from constipation or diarrhea.

Nervous system:  The different divisions of the nervous system get affected when under stress.  The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system of the autonomic nervous system has different responses for acute and chronic stressors.  The body may regain its composure after the acute stress but may be drained out after the chronic stress.  There is continuous activation of the nerves when a person is stressed.

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Female reproductive system:  Irregular menstruation may be one direct effect of stress in girls and women.  Hormonal levels fluctuate during menopause and the changes bring about a lot of mood swings and anxiety in women.  Stress also is found to have a negative effect on the sexual desire often resulting in marital discord.

Male reproductive system:  The hormonal production in males may get hampered when under excess or frequent stress. The sperm production gets hampered and there are chances that the men may fall prey to erectile dysfunction or even impotence. The body becomes more vulnerable to all kinds of infections.

On the whole, stress has the capacity to create havoc in the lives of people.  Effective management strategies and right breathing techniques and meditation have been found to be extremely helpful in combating stress and restoring some kind of semblance back into the lives of individuals.

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Prof. Madhu Kosuri

I have completed 30 years of teaching and research in psychology at the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India.

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