How Is Stress Affecting Your Health?

By Jennifer Noble | Jan 11, 2018

When people experience more stress than they can cope with, their health is imperiled. Physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms of stress manifest themselves with increasing severity over time. These symptoms can become so severe that they are mistaken for other illnesses. Left untreated, stress symptoms damage the body and brain.

This damage can lead to disease and chronic health problems. Controlling mental stress, reducing triggers of bad stress, and practicing stress-reduction techniques—such as exercise, meditation, and yoga—are important components of a healthy lifestyle. In the worst case scenarios, uncontrolled high stress leads to obesity, drug and alcohol addiction, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer.

Effectively dealing with stress is literally a matter of life and death. According to Mayo Clinic, common effects of stress on the body include headache, muscle tension, chest pain, loss of sex drive, fatigue, stomach upset, and insomnia, Mood effects include anxiety, restlessness, lack of focus, irritability, anger, depression, and feeling overwhelmed. Behavioral effects include overeating or undereating, angry outbursts, drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, social withdrawal, and difficulty maintaining an exercise routine.

These effects should always be taken seriously. Action should be taken to prevent these stress symptoms from becoming long term. The body is designed to handle stress in short increments. The stress one feels during a near accident does not cause health problems. The body is designed to handle a short rush in blood pressure and heart rate and a quick tightening of the muscles. This prepares you to take action to avoid the accident!

However, the body cannot sustain those effects on a daily basis for months or years without serious health consequences.

The stress response, also known as the fight-of-flight response, has evolved over millennia, explains, When danger is perceived, the brain's hypothalamus activates the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands flood to body with hormones that cause the body to tense and the circulatory system to work at maximal capacity. When a person experiences this effect for long periods of time, such as sitting in a cubicle worrying about a layoff, these effects serve no practical function, such as they would if you had to dodge out of the way of an oncoming bus. The result is these effects create unwanted byproducts in the body. For example, high stress is correlated with excessive levels of cortisol. Over time, excessive cortisol causes weight gain.

There are both negative and positive stress reactions, explains WebMD, Positive stress, also known as Eustress, has a healthful effect on the body. Eustress is generally associated with positive feelings, such as the excitement one experiences when getting a job promotion, achieving a long sought after financial goal, or completing a long-distance bike ride. Eustress makes people more alert and energetic. It keeps them motivated and eager to take on life's next challenge.

Bad stress, known as distress, has the negative effects that are responsible for the large number of doctor visits that involve stress related or stress exacerbated complaints. WebMD notes that 75 to 90 percent of doctor visits result in part from stress, and 43 percent of all adults have experienced stress-related health problems. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has declared stress a workplace hazard, costing the U.S. economy $300 billion annually.

When dealing with stress-related conditions, it is important to detail for your doctor exactly how long these symptoms have persisted and what conditions make them worse. It is also important to examine what areas in your life may be exposing you to distress. Work with a doctor who understands how stress-related health concerns can affect your quality of life. For example, Dr. James Gohar, notes that he, "wants to help all his patients achieve their health goals."

Having health goals is crucial when dealing with stress-related health effects. Stress problems generally evolve over a long period of time and remission of the symptoms often takes an investment of time and energy. Changes in lifestyle, diet, and habits all affect stress symptoms. Over time, stress-related conditions, such as hypertension and weight gain, can be reduced. Most stress-effect symptoms are reversible. It is crucial to start reducing stress before these effects cause additional health problems.


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