Stress is part of life — at work, at home, and on the road.

Unmanaged or prolonged stress can wreak havoc on your body, resulting in unexpected aches, pains, and other symptoms.

Studies have shown that stress affects all systems of the body including muscles, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.

Common effects of stress

Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

The first step to stress management is to know the symptoms of stress. Here are some effects listed to help you understand what stress can do to your body:

The immune system

Stress usually has a negative impact on sleep, diet and exercise—all major components of overall health. So it’s no wonder that your immune system will also be compromised.

The Digestive System

Come stress and our appetite goes for a toss. During this time, the liver produces extra blood sugar to give you an energy boost. Many times, the body is not able to handle this surge in sugar levels and puts itself under the stress of developing Type-2 diabetes.

The Gut

Have you ever had a stomach ache from being so stressed out? The correlation is real because stress really shows in your digestive system — from simpler symptoms such as pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation to more complex conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux (GERD).

When stressed, you may have a tendency to eat more or less, which can lead to unhealthy diets. If the stress is severe enough, you may even vomit too.

The Cardiovascular system

According to the American Heart Association, stress contributes directly to risk factors for high blood pressure—like a poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption—so if you’re stressed, your blood pressure is likely to go up.

The Muscular system

The muscles of our body get tensed when the body is undergoing a stressful encounter. With prolonged periods of stress, the muscles don’t get a chance to relax. Tight and tensed muscles cause body aches, neck and shoulder pain, and headaches.

And much more, other prevalent effects of stress on our behavior include:

  • Drug/Alcohol abuse
  • Usage of Tobacco
  • Overeating or Undereating
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Feeling overwhelmed

The most unhelpful thing you can do is turn to something unhealthy to help you cope, such as smoking or drinking…

The good news is that in many cases, stress is manageable.

What you can do to address stress:

Breathe easy

The advice “take a deep breath” may seem like a cliché, but it holds true when it comes to stress. For centuries, Buddhist monks have been conscious of deliberate breathing during meditation.

For an easy three- to five-minute exercise, sit up in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and hands on top of your knees. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply, concentrating on your lungs as they expand fully in your chest.

While shallow breathing causes stress, deep breathing oxygenates your blood, helps center your body, and clears your mind.

Be mindful

The concept of “mindfulness” is a large part of meditative and somatic approaches to mental health and has become popular recently. From yoga and tai chi to meditation and Pilates, these systems of mindfulness incorporate physical and mental exercises that prevent stress from becoming a problem.

Eat right

Stress levels and a proper diet are closely related. When we’re overwhelmed, we often forget to eat well and resort to using sugary, fatty snack foods as a pick-me-up. Try to avoid sugary snacks and plan ahead. Fruits and vegetables are always good, and fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress. A tuna sandwich really is brain food.

Stress-Busting Activities

Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to relieve stress and find your happy place. Even when you’re down, you may find pleasure in simple things like going for a walk, catching up with a friend, or reading a good book.

Get enough sleep

Stress can cause you to have trouble falling asleep. When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep can suffer. But sleep is the time when your brain and body recharge.

And the quality and amount of sleep you get can affect your mood, energy level, concentration and overall functioning. If you have sleep troubles, make sure that you have a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine, listen to soothing music, put clocks away, and stick to a consistent schedule.

Accept Those Things Beyond Your Control

Some circumstances are simply beyond our control, and we have to learn to cope with and accept them. Fortunately, you do have control over how you react to stressful situations. Staying calm and being willing to accept emotional support from others can help in managing stress.