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Gail Petrowsky

How Stress Can Affect Your Body

Most of us understand that too much stress can have a negative impact on our body. Over time, the effects of stress on the body can contribute not just to unhappiness, but potentially devastating physical ailments.

Emotional and physical reactions to stress are partly determined by the sensitivity of your sympathetic nervous system. This system provides the fight or flight reaction in response to stress and excitement, speeding up and heightening the pulse rate, respiration, muscle tension, glandular function, and circulation of the blood. These are not always a bad thing, and were helpful to survival in ancient times.

But these same physical symptoms of stress that helped keep our ancestors alive often have a detrimental effect in today’s modern world.

If you have recurring symptoms of anxiety when facing major or minor emotional upsets, your thoughts are likely having a more negative than positive effect. Your thoughts and how you react to them can cause an overreaction of your sympathetic system. 

If you have traumas in your life, whether they be large or small, your sympathetic nervous system will always be poised to react to a crisis, putting you in a state of continuous tension. In other words, your body reacts to small stresses the same way it reacts to real emergencies.

Physical symptoms of stress can manifest themselves in many ways, including constant feelings of anxiety, chest tightening, knots in the neck, tiredness, or trouble focusing.

That is because the energy that accumulates in the body to meet these "Emergencies” must be discharged in order to bring your body back into balance. 

Repeated episodes of the fight or flight reaction depletes your energy reserves and, if they continue, will lead to emotional and physical burnout. 

Many of the side effects of stress will eventually lead to physical disease.

Stress Management Techniques

You can break this pattern of over-stressing only by getting a handle on your mind as well as your body. This stress management strategy is aimed at understanding what is causing stress, and why you are reacting the way you are. With a better understanding of the sources of stress, you are better able to employ techniques and strategies to manage your stresses and control your body.

In order to truly deal with stress in your life you need to:

  • Alter the thoughts you think that are negative to positive
  • Handle the incompletions in your life
  • Learn conflict resolution techniques, and 
  • Practice stress management such as meditation and exercise. 

You determine how a situation affects you

We are both burdened and blessed by the great responsibility of free will; the power of choice. Our future is determined, in large, partly, by the choices we make now. We cannot always control our circumstances, but we can, and do choose our response to whatever arises. By reclaiming the power of choices we find the power to live fully in the world.

In stressful times remember to make conscious choices that will reduce stress. You cannot control the external circumstances of your life. However, you can control your reactions to them. 

Reframe the situation as a challenge, not a threat

  • Write down the situation and events as they occur objectively, not subjectively. 
  • Notice your self-talk. Change negative to positive. Use positive affirmations. 
  • Practice being in the moment without the negative emotional fantasy.
  • Breathe - your breath serves as an inner calm. Relax your body or meditate.

Stress Relief Exercises

  • Alter negative beliefs to positive 
  • Be, do, have
  • Be truthful in communications with self and others 
  • Practice awareness and mindfulness
  • Be accountable, not a victim 
  • Choose to move forward 
  • Affirmations 
  • Visualizations 
  • Lower fat intake and less sugar in diet 
  • Exercise 
  • Be clear about goals and next action steps 
  • Breathe

Therapy and Identifying the Causes of Stress

Identifying past traumas and how they manifest in your life to trigger stress responses can be difficult to do on your own. My therapy and counseling practice LINK is focused on helping clients identify and develop the ability to deal with the causes of stress in their life.

I also put together several seminars where I serve as a facilitator to help attendees better understand their present situation as well as how their past is affecting them. 

In many cases, these stresses can be a result of childhood trauma. One of the most powerful ways to identify and deal with these problems is through a technique known as Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP).

Progressive Relaxation to Relieve Stress

I’ve found that one of the best ways to eliminate stress is with Progressive Relaxation, a systematic way to identify and alleviate many of the physical symptoms of stress. In this Article, I break down the progressive muscle relaxation technique.

You can also listen to my guided relaxation and meditation recordings on my Youtube channel as well as on Spotify and the other streaming platforms.


While stress serves a purpose in helping us in our day to day life, too many of us have too much stress in our life. In order to grow as a person, and to become the best, healthiest version of ourselves as possible, it’s vital to get stress under control.

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