One of the systems in the body that can be affected by stress is the respiratory system, which supplies oxygen to cells and removes carbon dioxide. Stress and strong emotions can present with respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing, as the airway between the nose and the lungs constricts.
For those with respiratory diseases, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this can cause severe problems. In addition, rapid breathing – or hyperventilation – caused by stress can bring on a panic attack in someone prone to panic disorder.
Chronic stress, or a constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can also contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels within the cardiovascular system. In the short-term when stress strikes, an individual’s heart rate increases and stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol also rise, acting as messengers for these effects.
For those with chronic stress, the consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This can increase the risk for potentially life-threatening conditions such as hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.