Stress can have widespread effects on your body. In a physically threatening environment, these changes are useful and good. However, living in a state of constant stress can be harmful. Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but prolonged stress can lead to specific symptoms and conditions. Stress has been linked to everything from serious cardiovascular issues to general body aches and pains, as well as mental health problems.
Major Health Problems Caused by Stress
The big health problems caused by stress may include the following conditions.
Heart disease is a major killer in the United States, and doctors know that stress can cause high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels as well as lower physical activity levels. Stress can also cause increased smoking and overeating, which in turn can also negatively influence heart health. Stress can also increase risk of strokes.
Immune System Problems
Stress can also compromise your immune system, leaving you susceptible to infection. People experiencing stressful times in their lives tend to catch communicable diseases, such as the cold and flu, more often. People who have long-term stress may also heal slower than other people.
Lowering your immune system response can also increase the risk of cancer. When the immune system is not functioning normally, the risk of some virus-associated cancers like Kaposi sarcoma or some lymphomas may be higher. Changes in the immune system may also affect the ability of cells to repair themselves and may change the way that cells grow, leading to cancers. Since the data has not been conclusive, more research is being done to investigate this relationship.
Stress can cause irritable bowel and other digestive disorders. People who have irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to have anxiety or depression. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not cause ulcers - bacteria does - but stress can make the condition worse.
Muscular and Joint Pains
Back pain, neck pain and other joint pain can be the result of too much tension in the body. In some cases, just thinking about a stressful event can increase the pain. Relieving that tension or stress can result in reduced or eliminated pain.
Stress can cause problems with sleep - making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Both major stressful events and chronic stress can lead to sleep issues. Long-term insomnia can lead to problems with work and family life as well as other health issues.
Stress has been associated with obesity for years. One possible reason is that periods of stress may lead to periods of larger meals and overeating, which can lead to weight gain. Research has also suggested that chronic stress can activate fat cells in the body, which can lead to these cells growing in size and in number. People who are stressed also may also engage in emotional eating, which can also lead to weight gain.
Minor Health-Related Symptoms of Stress
Other frequent health issues may also be associated with stress. Some minor health related symptoms include the conditions:
- Skin conditions: Stress can make skin conditions like psoriasis or rosacea worse. It can also make fingernails more brittle and cause hair loss.
- Acne: Stress can increase levels of certain hormones in the body, which can make acne worse. Stress can also affect other factors like diet or sleep habits that may lead to increased acne as well.
- Stomach discomfort: Undergoing severe stress may increase the acid production in your stomach, which can lead to gastritis. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stress can make it worse.
- Body aches: Chemicals released by stress can cause muscle tension and lead to tension headaches.
- Fatigue: After periods of high levels of stress, the body needs to take time to recover. This leads to fatigue. Constant stress may cause increased levels of fatigue.
- Loss of appetite: A loss of appetite can be a symptom of stress; however, stress can also cause overeating.
- Irregular periods or no periods: Your period may become irregular after a period of increased stress. This may be associated with hormonal changes.
These minor health issues may be written off as just small inconveniences. Some people will relate their symptoms to the weather, a bad mood, too much exercise, or a bad mattress leading to a bad night's sleep; however, unrecognized stress could be the culprit. Although these issues may not seem to be significant, they can lead to more serious conditions over time.
Stress and Mental Health
Stress can also cause a variety of mental health conditions. Depression and anxiety disorders are on the rise, and they are largely caused by worry and anxiety. According to the CDC, more than 118 million Americans were prescribed antidepressants in 2005 for a variety of ailments, most of which are related to stress.
Many groups in society still see mental health issues as a stigma. In addition, people who are experiencing anxiety or depression are much less likely to take medications for other health problems. They are also less likely to follow a doctor-prescribed regimen for a particular ailment or to take their regular medications reliably.
Stress can also cause irritability and anger or aggression issues. Some people experience social withdrawal as well.
Managing Stress to Manage Your Health
Stress definitely affects your health; however, there are many ways to reduce your risk. There are a number of methods to relieve stress, and what works for one person may not work for another. It is important to add stress-reducing activities to your everyday routine. Reducing the tension now may go a long way to preventing health problems in the future. If you still are experiencing significant issues after taking self-care steps towards reducing it, don't be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she will assist you in developing a plan to reduce your stress and protect your health.