From pushing to meet a deadline to having a spat with your partner, your body and mind are designed to withstand and overcome short-term bouts of acute stress. When you perceive a challenge or threat, your body and mind immediately prepare for action, releasing hormones that increase your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and muscle tension. Once the challenge or threat has left, it can take 20 to 90 minutes before your body returns to its pre-stress state.
Though stress is a normal part of being human, long-term stress — like constant rushing or daily arguing — can become chronic and ultimately lead to a state of imbalance that compromises your physical and psychological wellbeing.
How to recognise stress
Chronic stress can result from multiple challenging, threatening, or uncontrollable situations, such as ongoing financial pressure, work problems, health issues, relationship troubles, or sleep deprivation. As your body is suspended in sympathetic arousal and deprived of the opportunity to recuperate (known as the parasympathetic response), you may start experiencing headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, food and substance misuse, compulsive behaviours, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
Known as an interruption to the free flow of Qi in ancient Chinese medicine, chronic stress can leave you feeling physically and psychologically stuck, amped-up, burnt out, or otherwise imbalanced. In addition to having wide-ranging effects on your mood, emotions, and behaviour, chronic stress can negatively impact physical and mental wellbeing.
7 ways that stress can affect your physical and mental wellbeing
When you face chronic stress, your brain constantly triggers a host of physical reactions via the nervous system, which can eventually wear down the health of your body and the ability of your brain to function properly. In addition to amping up the reactivity of the amygdala (your brain’s emotional centre), chronic stress can actually kill brain cells and shrink the part of your brain responsible for higher thinking, learning, memory, and reasoning (known as the prefrontal cortex).
Your endocrine system, which produces hormones through a network of glands and organs, regulates key bodily functions — such as metabolism, heart rate, sexual function, blood pressure, appetite, and sleep patterns. Chronic stress can trigger the endocrine system to secrete excessive stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline). This overexposure to stress hormones can increase your risk of anxiety, depression, impaired memory and cognition, heart disease, poor sleep, inflammation, chronic pain, and weight gain.
Gastrointestinal (GI) system
With millions of neurons, the enteric nervous system of your gut is often referred to as your “second brain.” By interrupting the health of your gut microbiota and brain-gut connection, chronic stress can cause indigestion, acid reflux, intestinal discomfort, bloating, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, inflammation, anxiety, and depression.
When you’re faced with a challenging or threatening situation, your musculoskeletal system creates tension, bracing itself for protection and action. Whilst chronic physical stress can cause overuse injuries or strain, even chronic psychological stress can lead to muscle aches, tension headaches, and migraines, in addition to triggering or exacerbating the experience of chronic pain.
Composed of the interdependent cardiovascular and respiratory systems, your cardiopulmonary system supplies vital oxygen to every cell and organ of your body. As stress causes your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate to elevate, chronic stress can cause your heart, blood vessels, and lungs to work harder every day. Alongside causing chest pain and difficulty breathing, chronic stress has been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, hypertension, abnormal heart rhythms, stroke, asthma, upper respiratory infections, and decreased pulmonary (lung) function.
Acute stress prepares your body to protect itself in the face of a threat or challenge by stimulating your immune system to prevent infections and heal wounds. However, chronic stress compromises this immunoprotective response, ultimately suppressing immune function and exacerbating inflammation. In addition to making you more vulnerable to viral infections, chronic stress can increase the amount of time it takes you to recover from injury or illness.
By inhibiting your reproductive system, chronic stress can negatively impact your sexual health. In addition to squandering your sex drive, chronic stress can cause erectile dysfunction in men and amenorrhea (absence of menses) and infertility in women.
Qigong for stress relief and total wellbeing
Ancient Chinese medicine acknowledges that physical and mental wellbeing results from the optimum function of your body’s interdependent vital systems and that chronic stress rarely impacts a single part in isolation. A holistic mindful movement system, Qigong is one of Chinese medicine’s most potent modalities for relieving stress and promoting holistic health and homeostasis. In addition to helping you change your habits and make positive decisions, a regular Qigong practice can help you reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, elevate musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary health, sharpen your memory and focus, increase your emotional resilience, improve your quality of sleep, and enhance your sexual health.
Relieve stress with serving tea cups Qigong
Serving Tea Cups Qigong is a simple Qigong exercise that targets areas that often manifest stress symptoms: the shoulders, neck, thoracic spine, and gastrointestinal system. The flowing movements of Serving Tea Cups Qigong can help you soothe feelings of stress, improve your posture, support your digestive health, and increase your neck and shoulder health and mobility.
Qigong is a holistic health system that has been supporting and optimising human wellbeing for dozens of centuries. Learn how you can experience the positive effects of Qigong on your physical and mental wellbeing through our blog, ebooks, and online courses.