The human body consists of 13 major organ systems. Of all organs, five are considered vital: the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs. Why do we mention this? Because an overstressed body negatively affects them all, 1particularly the vital organs. Today, we’ll discuss the impact of an overstressed body on major organ systems. This is what happens when you’re overstressed.
1. Musculoskeletal System
Our bones, joints, and muscles make up the musculoskeletal system. As we’re all privy to, an overstressed body can tense them up. In an acute state, this tension is released and “that is that,” as they say. However, chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness; chronic painful conditions and musculoskeletal disorders can manifest in this state.
2. Integumentary System
This system includes the hair, nails, and skin. The integumentary system plays an important role in maintaining the body’s equilibrium, “including protection, temperature regulation, sensory reception, biochemical synthesis, and (nutrient) absorption.”
For the integumentary system to function properly, other internal systems must also be maintained. Stress disrupts the systematic operation of this system, which can result in decreased blood flow to the skin, skin inelasticity, destabilization of glandular functions, and disrupt tissue restoration.
3. Cardiovascular System
The cardiovascular system consists of our heart and blood vessels and is a potentially life-threatening target for chronic high stress. Cardiovascular disease accounts for approximately 610,000 deaths every year in the United States – or 1 in every 4 fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
More research continues to link cardiovascular disease and stress. The presence of stress, particularly combined with other risky behaviors (e.g. smoking, alcohol abuse), is thought to increase one’s risk drastically to this disease.
4. Respiratory System
The bronchi, larynx, lungs, nose, pharynx, and trachea forms the respiratory system. The brain’s fight or flight response causes one to breathe harder, sometimes to the point that one experiences hyperventilation.
Panic attacks – a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety – is a common medical condition in those with chronic stress.
5. Digestive System
The digestive system includes primary organs – the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines; and accessory organs – the rectum, appendix, gallbladder, and pancreas.
Consuming more food, alcohol, and nicotine can result in acid reflux or heartburn – a common problem for those with chronic stress. Stress also increases stomach sensitivity, which can worsen the symptoms mentioned above.
Chronic stress may lead to severe stomach pain, ulcers, and other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
6. Nervous System
The brain and spinal cord are “the central division “ of the nervous system. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) “has a direct role in physical response to stress); which is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Stress starts, ends, and everything in between, within the brain. Stress initiates the “fight or flight” response and releases stress hormones that spread throughout the body, causing “the heart to beat faster, respiration to increase, blood vessels in the arms to dilate,” in addition to other side effects.
In short, chronic stress is not good for the brain.
7. Reproductive System
Our reproductive system encompasses the gonads, accessory organs (e.g. prostate, uterus), Genitalia, mammary glands, and genital ducts (male).
For both men and women, the reproductive system is influenced by the nervous system. In men, the ANS produces testosterone and activates the sympathetic nervous system to create arousal. For women, stress adversely affects women across a range of functions: menstruation, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause and sexual desire.
During times of stress, the brain releases cortisol which, over a period of time, may disrupt the normal function of anatomic reproductive components.
8. Endocrine System
The adrenals, hypothalamus, pancreas, parathyroid, pineal gland, pituitary gland, ovaries, testes, and thymus and make up the endocrine system.
The brain initiates the release of stress hormones, cortisol, and epinephrine, via the hypothalamus. The adrenals, located near the kidneys, produces cortisol and epinephrine; this heightens the body’s stress awareness levels.
The liver produces glucose during the abovementioned process, which would generally provide aid during fight or flight mode. However, this excess blood sugar could lead to Type 2 diabetes in vulnerable demographics, including the obese and some races (e.g. Native Americans).
Managing stress is important to maintain a normal blood sugar level – and potentially avoiding diabetes in certain situations.