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  /  Ayurveda   /  Effects of Stress On the Body

Stress can play a major part in several health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, asthma, depression, and anxiety. We look at the various systems that get affected by stress and how you can effectively manage it.

Cardiovascular System

Your heart and the blood vessels are two critical components of the cardiovascular system. These organs complement each other to supply oxygen to your body and give it much-needed energy.

These two components also work together to respond to stressful situations. Stressful circumstances such as having to meet a deadline at work or getting stuck in traffic when you’re late for an important meeting trigger a spike in your heart rate. 

It also causes intense contractions in your heart muscles and the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline – which are the primary cause of these physiological effects.

While this happens, your blood vessels pump more blood to the larger muscles in your heart which leads to a spike in your blood pressure. This entire process is called the “fight or flight” response. Your heart returns to its normal activity once the stressful situation has passed.

Although the “fight or flight” response is your body’s natural mechanism, frequent triggers that are caused by constant stress over a long time can lead to serious health conditions such as inflammation in your circulatory system.

Another condition typically associated with chronic stress is blockage of the coronary artery which could lead to a heart attack or stroke. A critical fallout of consistent stress response is an increase in your cholesterol levels.

Women, specifically those who are premenopausal, seem to have a better physiological response to stress as compared to men. This is attributed to the presence of estrogen which improves blood vessel response to stressful situations and helps them handle such situations better and reduces the risk of heart conditions.

But postmenopausal women are at higher risk of heart diseases due to stress {2}.

Respiratory System

The primary role of your respiratory system is to supply oxygen to the cells in your body. The air moves through the nose to the throat, after which it goes down the trachea and into the lungs through the bronchi.

The bronchioles transport oxygen to the bloodstream for circulation to various body parts so that they can carry out their respective functions.

Constantly coming across stressful situations may tighten the airway between the nose and the lungs, affect important respiratory functions and cause difficulty in breathing. In some cases, it may also lead to rapid breathing.

If you have existing breathing difficulties such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stressful situations may intensify your breathing issues.

Several studies have found that acute stress can be caused by situations such as the loss of a dear one, which in turn could spark an asthma attack. Rising anxiety could also cause panic attacks {3}.

Research has also shown that breathing techniques such as the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga and meditation help lower the effects of stress and also prevent panic attacks {1}.

Endocrine System

Your body’s response to stressful situations also includes your endocrine system which consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands – known as the HPA axis.

The hypothalamus connects your brain and the endocrine system. It communicates with the pituitary gland (located behind the bridge of your nose directly below your hypothalamus) which in turn signals the adrenal glands (located above the kidneys) to release more cortisol into the bloodstream.

This first leads to the production of a group of steroids called glucocorticoids which includes cortisol. Cortisol, known as “the stress hormone,” is your body’s primary hormone released as a response to stress.

Cortisol generates more energy for your body’s “fight or flight” response by making more fuel available to the body in the form of glucose and fatty acids. Typically, the cortisol produced in the body varies based on the time of the day and your activity levels.

But when faced with stressful situations, the body produces more cortisol to meet your body’s energy demands to deal with the circumstances.

Glucocorticoids play a critical role in regulating your body’s immune response and reducing inflammation. While glucocorticoids are essential for the effective functioning of your body’s immune system when you’re injured, chronic stress could damage the communication between the HPA axis and your immune system.

A serious impediment in this communication could lead to several physical and mental health conditions including metabolic disorders like diabetes, immune disorders, and fatigue {2}.

Musculoskeletal System

Your muscles tense when you’re stressed. This is your body’s reflex action to stress to protect you from injury and pain. And once the stressful situation has passed, your muscles relax.

Repeatedly coming across stressful situations results in your body being in a perpetual state of guardedness causing your muscles to be stiff and tense for long periods. This could lead to other stress-related conditions.

To cite an example, headaches and migraines linked to tension are due to chronic muscle stress in your shoulders, neck, and head. Research has also related stress to musculoskeletal pain in the lower back. One of the primary reasons attributed to this is stress at work.

In some cases, injuries can trigger such chronic pain. But it’s important to note that even in cases where an injury is the primary cause of the onset of pain, chronic stress could lead to recurrence.

This is why it’s important to indulge in some physical activity and at the same time, understand that there could be other factors apart from a physical cause that could have caused the pain. 

This helps people focus on a holistic recovery approach that includes relaxation techniques, and stress-relieving therapies to soothe the pain and help in the recovery. 

Ayurveda recommends specific therapies based on the affected muscle parts that reduce inflammation and supports the recovery process by using effective herbal oils.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation and pranayama help in reducing muscle tension while yoga gives the required strength and flexibility to your muscles. These techniques also lower the risk of stress-related disorders, bring about a sense of well-being, and enhance your productivity {3}.

Nervous system

Your nervous system is divided into many parts – the central nervous system which includes your brain and spinal cord and the peripheral system which is made of the autonomic and somatic nervous systems.

The autonomic nervous system is directly involved in your body’s stress response. It is made up of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). When your body is stressed, the SNS communicates with the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol.

These hormones, along with the nerves cause your heart to beat rapidly, increase your respiration rate, dilate the blood vessels in your arms and legs, and also trigger your digestive system to increase the glucose levels in your bloodstream to make more energy available for your body’s response.

The SNS response to an emergency or stressful situation is swift and once this situation has passed, the PNS, which typically has the opposite effect of the SNS, takes over to help your body recover and return to its normal state.

But a hyperactive PNS could lead to some stress complications such as bronchoconstriction like the one seen in people with asthma. It could also jeopardize blood circulation due to vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels) which could cause low blood pressure.

The SNS and the PNS work together with your immune system to regulate your stress response. The central nervous system is critical for your stress response since it controls the autonomic nervous system and also in contextualizing potential threats.

Undergoing stressful situations for long periods can lead to wear and tear to several parts of your body and could also drain your body. Chronic stress is mainly harmful due to the effects of your nervous system on other bodily systems and may have serious health implications {3}.

Gastrointestinal System

Your gut houses millions of nerve cells (neurons) that communicate with the brain and stress could impact this gut-brain link. Your gut also houses millions of bacteria that play a critical part in the health of the brain as well as gut health and can affect your thoughts and emotions.

Stress has been linked to the changes in gut bacteria (called the microbiome) that in turn can affect your mood. If you frequently come across stressful situations when you’re young, it could impact the development of the nervous system and your stress response. This could also lead to an elevated risk of gut diseases later in life.


Stress can cause unhealthy eating habits such as binge eating or eating less than what you do otherwise. It could also lead to increased intake of alcohol or tobacco that could cause heartburn or acid reflux.

In some cases, extreme stress could result in spasms that could be mistaken for a heart attack or it may lead to elevated intake of air that could cause burping or bloating.


Severe stress can lead to vomiting or make the effects of pain, nausea, and other stomach discomforts more acute. It could also affect your appetite.


Stress can also lead to acute pain or discomfort in the bowels and can also hamper the flow of food through the body – leading to either diarrhea or constipation. Stress could also cause bowel spasms that could be painful and can hamper the digestive system leading to the absorption of fewer nutrients by your intestines.

Your body could also produce more gas when it’s stressed and weaken the intestinal barrier that protects your body from bacteria present in the food, thus letting your gut bacteria into the body.

The immune system takes care of most of these bacteria, but the constant inflammation caused by the immune system action could make you feel sick. Stress is known to have severe effects on people with chronic bowel conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. This could be due to the sensitivity of the nerves in the gut or changes in the microbiome that could hamper the immune response {2}.

Female Reproductive System

Stress affects several functions of the female reproductive system.


Extreme stress can cause irregular menstruation and severe pain during periods, and modify the length of the cycles in adolescent girls and women. In some cases, it could also result in nonexistent menstruation.


Stress, anxiety disorders, and fatigue can lower the libido, more so in cases where women have other chronic conditions such as depression or when they have to face domestic abuse.


Stress can severely impact a woman’s ability to conceive and also harm the pregnancy and her postpartum health. It can also harm the fetus, the development of the child in the womb, and the formation of a healthy relationship between the child and the mother in the days after the child has been delivered.

Premenstrual Syndrome

Stress can make premenstrual symptoms cramping, bloating, mood swings, and fluid retention more acute and difficult to handle.


Menopause causes rapid changes in hormone levels that could in turn trigger anxiety disorders and mood swings. Menopause could be a cause of stress in itself and also lead to further stress that could aggravate symptoms of menopause.

To cite an example, women who are more stressed could have extreme menopause symptoms such as intense hot flashes.

Other Reproductive System Conditions

When women undergo intense stress, it could magnify the symptoms of reproductive conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age who may have irregular or prolonged menstrual periods {3}.

Male Reproductive System

Your nervous system has a major effect on your reproductive system. The SNS is responsible for arousal whereas the PNS leads to relaxation. The autonomic nervous system produces testosterone to trigger feelings of arousal by activating the SNS.

Stress causes the release of higher amounts of cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol is important for the normal functioning of many physiological functions such as the cardiovascular, circulatory, and the male reproductive system. But when present in higher amounts, it could impede the normal functioning of the male reproductive system.


Chronic stress is linked to lower levels of sperm production which could make it hard to conceive. Studies indicate that men who have experienced two or more stressful situations in their lives over the recent year had lower sperm motility and morphology (size and shape of the sperm) as compared to those who did not undergo any stressful events.


Being stressed for long periods can limit the production of testosterone in males which could hamper libido. In some cases, it could lead to other conditions like erectile dysfunction or impotency.

Other Reproductive System Conditions

Stress can affect the body’s immune response and leave you vulnerable to infections. There have been many cases of infections in the prostate gland, testes, and urethra that impact the normal functioning of the male reproductive system {3}.

Stress Management

Understanding the effects of stress on various critical bodily functions is the first step to overcoming stress. There are many effective ways to manage stress. Research has shown that practices such as meditation and relaxation therapies help overcome the negative effects of stress on your mind and body.

You can book an appointment with an Ayurvedic expert to know what your stressors are and what you can do to overcome them.

If you would like additional support or if you’re undergoing extreme stress, the Ayurvedic specialists at The Happiness Center can help you identify the challenges that affect your daily life.

Our specialists give personalized recommendations for a holistic approach to overcome stress that includes therapies, breath workshops, and meditation.

Some of the effective therapies are:

  • Abhyanga. This therapy loosens stiff muscles, improves circulation, and removes mental and physical fatigue {4}.
  • Shirodhara. This therapy soothes and invigorates the five senses and the mind and gives you a sense of complete tranquility, mental clarity, and relaxation {5}.
  • Marma. This is a very effective therapy that lowers high blood pressure, anxiety, and stress-related issues. Marma is not only effective as a curative therapy but is also beneficial when it comes to preserving physical and mental health {6}.
  • Shirovasti: Shirovasti has a soothing effect on the central nervous system that plays an essential part in the regulation of your brain activity and allows the body’s natural healing mechanism to release stress {7}.

You can also sign up for our weekend stress relief program that combines natural therapies, breathwork, meditation, and lifestyle recommendations under the watchful eyes of our experts.

These techniques not only help you manage stress effectively but also improve your overall physical and mental well-being, become more productive, and bring a balance to your lifestyle.



Venkat - AuthorAbout the Author:

Venkat is a freelance writer and an SEO buff. He writes about health & wellness, technology, and finance. He’s also a certified yoga and meditation instructor.



American Psychological Association: “Stress effects on the body.”

Experimental and Clinical Sciences Journal: “The impact of stress on body function: A review.”

Interdisciplinary International Journal: “Exploring the Science of Marma – An Ancient Healing Technique: Definition and Properties of Marma.”

International Journal of Advanced Research: “Effect of Shirovasthi and Nasyam in Cerebellar Disorder.”

International Journal of Yoga: “Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health.”

Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine: “Shirodhara: A psycho-physiological profile in healthy volunteers.”

Journal of Traditional Medicine & Clinical Naturopathy: “Physio-Anatomical Explanation of Abhyanga: An Ayurvedic Massage Technique for Healthy Life.”