How Stress Affects Your Health

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Our body’s autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response which will cause physiological changes to allow the body to battle stressful situations. This natural reaction is also known as the “fight or flight response" and it is activated in emergency situations. However, this way of replying can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress, which can cause wear and tear on the body — both physical and emotional.

Stress that continues without any sort of relief can lead to a condition called “distress” – this is a negative reaction on the body. Distress can disturb our internal balance or equilibrium, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pains, sexual dysfunction, and insomnia. Emotional problems can arise; such as, depression, or panic attacks. Stress over a prolonged period of time has been known to provoke certain diseases, and has linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

Some people respond to their stress by engaging in compulsive activities. They sometime use substances or behaviours to try to relieve their stressors. This all includes but is not limited to: food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, shopping, and the Internet. While these activities may seem as if they lead the body back to some sort of temporary relaxed state… these substances and compulsive behaviours tend to keep the body in a stressed state causing more problems. The distressed person becomes trapped in a vicious circle.

What Are the Warning Signs of Stress?

Chronic stress can wear down the body’s natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including:

Problems sleeping Racing heart Cold and sweaty palms Tiredness, exhaustion Trembling/shaking Weight gain or loss Upset stomach Sexual difficulties


In Chinese medicine, stress, anxiety, depression or any strong emotion interrupts the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. According to Chinese medical theory, energy flows through our body through a network of “roads”, almost like a highway system.

Stress, anger, or any intense emotion acts like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy in the body. For example, the many stressed out people who complain of upper body pain (neck, back shoulders) this is because stress is causing tension in those areas, blocking the free flow of energy, causing pain, tightness, and often leading to headaches.

Through acupuncture, theses energy blockages can be addressed. Acupuncture points serve as the on and off ramps to the energy highway, and can help energy flow smoothly, and alleviate not only the symptoms of stress and anxiety, but the stress and anxiety itself.

From a Western viewpoint, acupuncture works to alleviate stress by releasing natural pain-killing chemicals in the brain, called endorphins. In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood throughout the body, which oxygenates the tissues and cycles out cortisol and other waste chemicals. The calming nature of acupuncture also decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes the muscles.

People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. Here are some everyday tips to help you keep stress at bay:

  • Keep a positive attitude.

  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.

  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.

  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or acupuncture.

  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.

  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.

  • Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.

  • Make time for hobbies and interests.

  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.

  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviours to reduce stress.

  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.

“…And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

-Abraham Lincoln

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