How Stress Affects Your Health
You're going to have some stress in your life — we all do, and it's normal. One of the best things you can do for your health is managed that stress, even when you can’t control its source. Some stress can be good. It can be a challenge that keeps us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger.
But too much stress can make us sick. And it can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases, research shows. If you're constantly under stress, you can have physical symptoms, such as headaches, an upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pain, and problems with sex and sleep.
What Is Stress?
Stress is simply a heightened level of your body's “fight or flight” response to a specific stressor, says Michael Kimmel, Ph.D., author of Stressed Is The New Happy: How to Thrive When Life Is Unfair and What to Do About It. If you're in a high-stress job or an unsafe environment, your body is putting you in the “fight or flight” mode to protect you. Your heart rate and breathing speed up, your blood pressure goes up, your muscles tense, and your lungs struggle to take in enough oxygen.
But you don't need to do anything to get stressed: your body might start showing signs that it's ready to get stressed before you do. “Your body takes the first step if you ask for it,” Kimmel says. When you enter a “fight or flight” mode, your fight-or-flight response is triggered. Stress is an emotional response to a stimulus that makes you feel scared, worried, or angry. The good news is that you can't avoid stress, no matter how much of a “noise” it causes in your life.
The bad news is that it can interfere with your health. When you’re chronically stressed out, your immune system becomes inefficient, and your body runs on the fuel of stress. That’s why stress can make you sick or even make you die. Stress is a natural response to stressful situations, like being fired or being rushed by a car.
Stressful situations can be adaptive: It’s what makes us alert and focused on protecting ourselves or getting home safely. But often, it’s a problem. Over time, you can grow accustomed to a certain amount of stress and cannot cope with it.
Stress is a mental and physical response to a particular but important event. If you're under some duress — for instance, experiencing layoffs, a medical emergency, the death of a loved one, or even a personal crisis — your stress levels can be pretty high. It's all tied to the same thing: what's going on in your life.
Stress is normal and healthy for people of all ages. If you're a teenager worried about what the teachers will say about your late assignments, that's normal. But if you're having heart palpitations, trouble sleeping, or headaches because of a job loss or family conflict, it's time to figure out what's going on. According to experts, the root causes of stress are more complicated than a simple lack of control.
Signs And Symptoms Of Stress
“People will tell you ‘I don’t have time to be sick,’” according to Dr. Lisa A. Thompson, owner and operator of Mountain Living Center for Integrative Health, “but being stressed is always having to deal with some big issue. It could be something involving your boss, kids, car, health, or job. Stress can be a powerful trigger for illness.” No matter your profession, job, family, social life, or hobbies, you can’t escape stress.
A study conducted by Northwestern University found that all of us are affected by stress in one way or another, and most of the time, we're unaware of its effects. We can experience it physically, mentally, or emotionally. Stress can affect your health on a variety of different levels, and not just your emotions. In general, stress can have physical symptoms that depend on the type and amount of stress you're under.
For example, stress causes an increase in cortisol levels in your body, which can cause you to have a headache, feel nauseous, and have low blood pressure. It can also affect your blood pressure, make you sweat, and affect your body temperature. Stress can also contribute to developing many different conditions, including depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
Stress can also affect your mental health. Adults with high levels of anxiety or stress have less sex, and those with high-stress levels can't seem to fall asleep. These mental health issues are also linked to depression and suicidal thoughts. Anxiety disorders, including phobias, are pervasive and are often diagnosed in children.
If you're experiencing these symptoms, it's important to pay attention and see if they get better after some rest and relaxation. In fact, it's common for the signs and symptoms of stress to get worse or even interfere with your daily activities without much rest or change in lifestyle.
Who Can Experience Stress?
From anxiety to depression, several mental health problems can be caused by stress. For example, stress can make your heart beat faster in mild cases, leading to palpitations or even fainting. You can also get headaches when your cortisol levels are too high. If you've ever gone three days without sleep, you've had a low-grade chronic stress problem.
Women are more likely to be affected by stress, and they are often affected for longer periods of time. They may experience symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and forgetfulness. Men are also at risk, but their symptoms might be harder to spot — in part because they don't like to admit that they're stressed out.
No matter how old or healthy you are, the stresses that occur from time to time can affect you differently from people in stable situations. For example, chronic high-stress levels may be problematic for an older person living on a fixed income.
For someone who lives in a highly stressed society, chronic high levels of stress may be problematic. Many of us experience stress regularly. There's only so much you can accomplish in a lifetime, right? But what you do with the stress that is imposed upon you is just as important.
You can use stress to motivate yourself to get things done, be organized, or feel more relaxed. Or you can let it go, take it to heart, and then get sicker as a result. Research shows that around a third of all Americans experience stress at least sometimes. On average, adults report that in the last month, three out of four days have been “tense, irritating, and frustrating.”
Types Of Stress
There's only one type of stress that we can directly control — our own thoughts and actions. Stress can be physical, such as running a race, or psychological, such as worrying about a problem. The causes of stress can be external, such as waiting to hear back from your boss about a job, or internal, such as worrying about whether your sister has cancer and how that makes you feel.
There are many different kinds of stress, and you may experience different kinds at different times. General stress refers to feelings of tension and mental strain. It can range from occasional irritability and worrying about an important problem to chronic worry or fear. Anticipatory stress can be associated with major life changes or concerns. People can have stress over not knowing what will happen in the future and being unable to change their circumstances.
Such “nervous fatigue” can be caused by a combination of mental and physical stress. An example would be when you've been working a lot, and then you've had to do something you didn't think you'd be able to complete — like spend more time on your commute. Most stress is normal, and some are helpful, though many kinds of stress are not. But we don’t really know why some kinds of stress are harmful while other kinds are not.
Here are some common types of stress:
- Social – Compromised social relationships (e.g., unemployment, family problems, divorce).
- Financial – Making more money or paying higher bills.
- Family – Being in a fight with a family member or witnessing violence.
- Environmental – Accident, noise, a noisy traffic environment.
- Occupational – Working on the wrong project or coming up short on a deadline.
- Sexual – Unwanted sexual experiences.
- Personal – Finances, or falling behind on bills, losing a loved one.
- Emotional – Being neglected, overworked, underappreciated.
Effects Of Stress On Your Physical Health
So how can stress affect your physical health? Your brain gets less oxygen and blood flow. Your adrenal glands release chemicals that make you more sensitive to stress hormones, which make your body more reactive to stress. Your heart rate speeds up, causing increased blood pressure. Your blood pressure and pulse go up. Your blood vessels narrow, which can restrict blood flow and contribute to high blood pressure.
Your immune system becomes sluggish, which can lead to inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease. The question is whether or not stress is a good thing. In an article for Psychology Today, Michael Murphy discusses the effects of stress on the body, and he doesn’t think it’s all bad. “Too much stress can actually protect us,” Murphy writes. Getting sufficient sleep can help prevent stress-related illnesses.
Some of the most common physical effects of stress include heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, increased blood sugar levels, stomach problems, and headaches. All these conditions could reduce how healthy you are, especially if appropriate stress management techniques aren’t controlling them. Research conducted at the University of Michigan in 2007 showed that frequent, long-term stress could raise a woman’s risk of developing heart disease.
This was regardless of a woman’s body mass index or smoking history. It seems that stress can lower your metabolic rate, which is the process that is needed for fat to be burned as fuel in the body. Stress affects how the body functions. When we’re under stress, it affects our hormones and digestion, sometimes making it difficult to digest our food properly. This can cause symptoms like indigestion and heartburn.
Stress also can affect how we think. Some research suggests that people with higher stress levels tend to have more confusion, trouble concentrating, and fatigue. It’s a vicious cycle: if you’re constantly stressed out, you may take it out on yourself by overeating and becoming depressed or anxious.
Digestive problems are common in people who are under a lot of stress. An upset stomach, for example, might be caused by a damaged nerve or nerves that control digestion. Or a malabsorption disorder can cause a lack of digestive enzymes that would help the body digest foods. Nerve problems and poor digestive function can also lead to headaches and stomachaches.
Stress can also weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses like the flu, bronchitis, and strep throat. Stress can mess with our digestive system. It can trigger inflammation in the gut, which can cause problems such as diarrhea or constipation. Or it can be a signal to the immune system to ramp up defences against our normal gut bacteria, researchers report. And not all of that inflammatory response can be good — it can increase the risk of colon cancer.
When we are stressed, we tend to eat more because of an increased risk of overheating or getting hungry more often than when we are not stressed. And our craving for sugar and other carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, possibly leading to an increased risk of diabetes. Stress also can make us feel short-tempered or irritable. If you get upset with someone or cannot concentrate, that can make it difficult to eat.
On the other hand, if you’re in a rut or feel stuck, it can make it difficult to sleep. The result? A lot of digestive problems. The digestion process is key to a healthy body. Through this process, food is broken down, and the nutrients inside your body are absorbed and used. If your digestion process is disrupted, you might experience bloating, gas, fatigue, and/or stomach pains.
It turns out stress can cause digestive problems such as heartburn and indigestion, new research shows. A University of Alabama at Birmingham study found that people who had a stressful job were more likely to develop these problems than satisfied with their jobs or who had a positive outlook on life.
Effects Of Stress On Your Mental Health
You're stressed. Does it affect your mood? Yes. According to research from the Mayo Clinic, the impact of stress can start to show up as what’s called mood disturbance, which is characterized by feelings of tension, sadness, or irritability. Stressed people may also have difficulty falling asleep and may have trouble controlling their impulses.
They may overreact to events and feel that they’re falling apart, according to Medical News Today. A common finding in these studies is a connection between stress and the amount of time we spend awake. Some of the most important effects of stress are mental. It can affect your memory, ability to focus, and happiness.
Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, Ph.D., president of the Epstein Career Institute in Miami, says, “Research is clear that high levels of stress increase the risk of developing some psychological disorders. Some of these include Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is caused by a totally distressing event. The person experiences flashbacks, nightmares, severe emotional arousal, increased sweating, feelings of dread, and a lack of concentration.
The person is generally unable to control these symptoms. Toxic stress is when a person suffers through continuous, high levels of stress unrelated to an actual life-threatening event. You may not have a physical problem if you're stressed. But there's a serious mental health component to that stress, too. There are two types of stress, biological and psychological.
Biological stress comes from working hard, doing too many activities, or being in a dangerous environment. These situations can make you physically and mentally sick. But the second type of stress doesn't come from situations. It comes from how you feel about life events or other people. And that's the psychological stress that gets you down.
If you're constantly worried about being poor or losing your job, or even a disappointment from a family member, your stress can interfere with your health. Psychological stress is the most common source of illness and disability worldwide.
Stress may be one of the biggest causes of depression, at least among women. A study in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that women who had high levels of job strain were more likely to experience depression than those who didn't. Their risk was two times higher than it was for women who worked less stressful jobs.
With long-term depression, you may also lose interest in things you used to enjoy, and you may become more depressed and less able to engage socially or get work done. You may also experience changes in your eating or sleeping habits, contributing to your fatigue and making it harder to accomplish tasks. In fact, anxiety is a common symptom of long-term depression.
Overwork can also worsen your feelings of depression. If you're feeling sad and hopeless, it can be a sign of clinical depression. Depression is a serious illness that affects about 15% of people at some point in their lives. It's estimated that more than one in four Americans will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime.
However, many people who experience clinical depression don’t know they have the illness. Experts don't really understand the underlying causes of depression, but they believe it can be brought on by physical, mental, or social factors.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that “short-term stress was associated with lower sleep efficiency and disturbed sleep onset latency” in women. The researchers found a link between sleep deprivation and insomnia “in the general population,” with women reporting more frequent symptoms of insomnia. The researchers found a link between sleep deprivation and insomnia “in the general population,” with women reporting more frequent symptoms of insomnia.
In a University of Michigan study, women who rated higher for high emotional control were more likely to experience insomnia. Women who were under more stress also experienced insomnia. In the same study, a group of volunteers who underwent cognitive behavioural therapy showed better sleep quality after they'd been exposed to a stressful situation.
Stress also can affect your physical health by making it harder to sleep and overstimulating your system. It can affect your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and contribute to weight gain and trouble losing weight. Studies show that too much stress can also bring about sleep problems. A lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and depression.
You're also more likely to have high blood pressure or blood sugar problems if you have poor sleep quality. That's not all. You might also get hot flashes, night sweats, and/or trouble losing or keeping weight when you're stressed. Stress affects sleep quality.
If you're constantly having trouble sleeping or wake up in the middle of the night, that could be your body's reaction to chronic stress, which interferes with your brain's ability to process sleep signals. Stress can also disrupt hormone production, which could also contribute to sleep issues.
When you feel stressed out, the best thing you can do is get some downtime. Just doing that will give you the chance to reflect on how you can manage the stress and make it work for you.
I trust you enjoyed this article about How Stress Affects Your Health. Please stay tuned for more blog posts to come shortly.
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