How Does Stress Impact Your Overall Health?


Stress is an unavoidable part of life – but too much stress can take its toll on the body.

Daily stressors, like traffic, work, school and busy schedules, are impossible to fully avoid. But even the smallest stressors can add up quickly, so it’s important to keep them under control before they become hard to manage.

Stress isn’t always a bad thing – it comes from the same part of our brain that protects us from danger, according to Healthline. But when stress levels are too high for too long, they can begin to have serious effects on your health, strength and happiness.

Symptoms of Stress

As WebMD points out, many of us are so used to the feeling of stress that we don’t recognize the various symptoms and how they can make our mind and body feel. Yet 75 to 90 percent of doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints, and 43 percent of adults suffer adverse physical and emotional effects from stress.

The physical symptoms of high stress can look different in every person, but here are some common concerns:

  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach (including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea)
  • Muscle aches
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking
  • Ringing ears
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Most people are aware of the emotional changes they experience when stressed, but other symptoms may include:

  • Feeling easily annoyed, frustrated or moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed or out-of-control
  • Inability to relax
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or depression
  • Avoiding social settings

In addition to these emotional and physical symptoms, stress can also change the way you think about things and cause you to develop unhealthy mental habits, such as negative thoughts, a racing mind and constant worry.

Impact of stress on the body

Chronic stress (stress that’s felt in high amounts for extended periods of time) can have significant impacts on your long-term health. Healthline reports that when people experience elevated levels of stress for longer than the body needs, every system in the body has the potential to be affected. Some potential long-term effects of chronic stress are:

  • Mental health struggles, such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders
  • Social withdrawal/isolating self from loved ones and friends
  • Cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke
  • Obesity or eating disorders
  • Menstrual problems/irregular periods
  • Skin and hair problems, such as eczema, acne and hair loss
  • Digestive problems, such as GERD, gastritis or an irritable colon

How to manage and minimize stress

While it may not be possible to completely avoid stress, there are many steps you can take to minimize its impact on your mental, physical and emotional health.

Caring for your body by getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day is a simple way to make sure your mind and body stay strong enough to handle the stressful situations that may come your way. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout – even a brisk walk will do the trick.

The National Institute of Mental Health also recommends finding a relaxing activity to incorporate into your schedule, such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and stretching.

There are many small steps you can take to manage your workload, stay organized and prioritize your well-being above all else. Set goals for yourself and break down your tasks into small pieces that you can easily achieve and check off your list as you go. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and choose to focus more on celebrating the things you have accomplished rather than dwelling on the things you haven’t done yet.

Lastly, be sure to connect with people who can help you and offer support. If you feel like you need a little extra help overcoming stress, don’t hesitate to reach out to a behavioral health professional at any of our Valleywise locations across the Valley. Visit ValleywiseHealth.org or call 1-833-VLLYWSE to schedule an appointment.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
  2. https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1

About the Author

Alicia L. Cowdrey, MD - Department of Psychiatry

Dr. Cowdrey is a District Medical Group psychiatrist and outpatient medical director of Behavioral Health Services at Valleywise Health. She also serves as associate program director of the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program at Creighton Alliance. In addition to treating patients at Valleywise Health, Dr. Cowdrey is training the next generation of psychiatrists through Creighton University – Arizona Health Education Alliance.

Read more posts by Alicia L. Cowdrey, MD  Browse all topics

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