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How Does Stress Impact the Body and Overall Wellness?

April 1, 2023

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We all deal with stress. Whether getting stuck in traffic when we are running late for an appointment or dealing with more chronic stress, such as financial stress, we all feel it to some extent. In fact, the American Institute on Stress reports that “twenty percent of older adults say they feel a lot of stress these days.”

So how does stress impact the body and our health and wellness? Our team at Franciscan Ministries is answering this question and sharing tips on how you can better practice stress management.

The Nature of Stress

To understand how stress affects your health, you first have to understand what stress is and why the body reacts the way it does. When your body senses a stressful situation, either needing to meet a tight deadline for work or needing to get away from a potential threat, the hormone cortisol is released.

Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Additionally, cortisol is responsible for curbing functions that would be nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation, such as decreasing appetite.

Stress and the release of cortisol in your body is a natural response and can be healthy in short amounts. In more primitive times, this response is ultimately what helped keep people safe. However, when cortisol levels remain high and we experience prolonged stress, also known as chronic stress, it can negatively affect our physical and mental health.

Moreover, chronic stress can lead to a variety of other health conditions, including:

  • Slower healing from injuries
  • Increased depression and anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Back, neck, and shoulder pain


The Common Cold

One of the effects of chronic stress is the toll it takes on the immune system. If you are dealing with constant stress, your immune system is lowered, and you are more vulnerable to catching a virus.

Weight Gain

One of the ways that the release of cortisol in your body affects you is by suppressing nonessential functions in a fight-or-flight response. This is your body’s way of preparing itself for survival, and curbing your appetite is one of the ways it does this. As a result, everything you eat gets stored as fat to be used when nutrients are no longer available.

Accelerated Aging

Living with chronic stress can even affect how you age and cause you to age more quickly. For example, a study examined and compared the DNA of women under constant stress to women without stress and showed effects of accelerated aging in those under continuous stress. In fact, “stress seemed to accelerate aging about 9 to 17 additional years.”

How to Manage Stress

Find Out What is Causing Your Stress

There is not a universal reason or cause behind everyone’s stress. We all lead our own lives and have different factors that play into what we worry about. Therefore, one of the first steps to reducing your stress levels is to figure out the root cause of your stress and identify any triggers you may have.

By doing so, you will be able to avoid or remove yourself from a situation you know triggers stress for you or at least prepare yourself for it.


Harvard Health Publishing states, “exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”

Some of the activities that have been linked to reduced stress include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Walking
  • Dancing


Consume a Healthy, Balanced Diet

According to the Mayo Clinic, “nutrition is important as stress can deplete certain vitamins, such as A, B complex, C and E. Maintaining proper nutrition not only helps your body feel better, but your mind as well, which allows you to better combat stress.”

Trading in your current way of life for a joyful, maintenance-free lifestyle in one of our Franciscan Communities is another great way to significantly reduce your stress levels. We handle the everyday chores and home maintenance tasks, so you can celebrate life and live joyfully.

We invite you to visit our website or contact a member of our team to learn more about our services and senior living communities.