You don't have to be a doctor to recognize the negative effects of stress on your body. It makes you feel anxious and out of control, and over time these feelings can become much more than just a mental state. Even just a few weeks of stress can take a physical toll, not to mention a mental one. This effect gets even worse as the period of stress stretches out longer, making prompt relief from stress a health imperative.
Consistent stress can lead to engaging in addictive behaviors. These behaviors can include the obvious ones, such as drinking or smoking to help alleviate feelings of pressure. They can also include overeating, even to the point of developing disorders such as bulimia. These addictive behaviors are coping mechanisms the brain utilizes to try to restore order. As you could probably guess, though, such practices only make stress worse in the end.
Stress can cause one to both want to sleep all the time, and be unable to sleep at all. Insomnia is a common complaint among people who are stressed. They often lie in bed for hours each night, unable to fall asleep because their body is tense or thoughts keep running through their minds. Some people attempt to treat this with sleeping pills or other medications, but in the end, it is much better to engage in self-soothing behaviors such as yoga, meditation, or simply deep breathing.
Stress can affect your eating habits in two different ways. For some people, the appetite disappears. This is usually accompanied by nausea or a general feeling of a "nervous stomach". Others, though, end up eating more when they are under a lot of stress. Researchers think this is because of hormonal changes in the body during stressful times. Alternatively, it could have something to do with the feeling of comfort and control offered by some foods, especially the delicious, greasy ones.
Just as one might want to eat more when stressed, they also tend to want to exercise less. When you are stressed, you rarely feel like exercising, other than to vent frustrations. But studies show exercise is actually one of the best ways to handle stress. It helps rid the body of extra adrenaline and cortisone caused by high-stress levels, and it helps you feel more energized and in control.
If stress has gone on for a long time or begins to manifest itself in ways that are more detrimental to your daily life, then it may be anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety include stomach aches, feelings of paranoia or always being "on edge," dizziness, moodiness, and even full-blown panic attacks. When stress continues uncontrolled, it can quickly become anxiety, which is much more difficult to manage, as it tends to have longer-lasting physical and mental effects.
Another result of extended, unchecked stress is depression. Depression symptoms include despondency, sadness, moodiness, lack of energy, fatigue, and a general feeling of being unhappy or ill at ease. Some people are more prone to depression than others due to their brain chemistry, but anyone can get depressed, especially if they spend much of their time focusing on problems. Depression is a serious condition, and if you suspect that you or someone you love has progressed to feeling that general quality of life is extremely low, or if thoughts of self-harm surface, contact a professional immediately.
The body's stress response can take a toll on our internal processes just as much as it can the rest of our body. Long periods of stress that include raised hormone levels can lead to a weakened immune system, which makes it easier sickness to take hold -- anything from the common cold to a serious virus, which only serves to make us even more stressed.
When we are stressed, we tend to be moody and tend to withdraw from our friends and family. While this seems logical (if you don't feel like being around yourself, why would you want to be around anyone else?), it is highly detrimental. Studies show people under stress felt better, not worse, when they pushed themselves to spend time with their friends, family, and loved ones.
We have already mentioned that stress weakens the immune system -- this affects not only potential incoming illness but also existing ones. Chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can all get worse when one is under high amounts of stress. While stress does not directly cause these conditions (although researchers are investigating its connection to IBS), it can make the symptoms more severe than they would be otherwise.
Let's face it: stress never feels good. Being under a lot of stress for a long time can make you feel tired all the time, even if you get enough sleep at night. Feeling "off" so often can make you feel run-down and world-weary all the time, which severely darkens your attitude toward life in general. If you are experiencing constant stress, it is imperative you find a way to deal with it, for the sake of your mental and physical well-being.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.