How Stress Affects Your Health

Stress can have far-ranging negative effects on your health. Learn what happens when you live with long-term stress.

By Lila Havens, Contributing Writer

When stress grips your body, you know it. Your heart starts pounding, your muscles tense, your stomach feels tied in knots. Sometimes this response can be a good thing. It may help you escape from an attacker or win your tennis game. But if chronic or overlapping stress doesn't let up, your physical response to it can have far-ranging negative effects on your health.

The stages of stress
Over 50 years ago, a scientist named Hans Selye recognized that stress was a major cause of illness. He broke the stress response into three stages, which he called the "general adaptation syndrome".

This sequence may happen in response to either a physical threat (such as being in a car accident) or an emotional one (such as being laid off from your job). Facing multiple long-term stressors piles extra strain on your system and can quickly lead to exhaustion.

People can respond differently to the same stressor, such as moving. Past experiences and coping skills they have learned, one's temperament and positive or negative feelings about the stressor can all affect how one will respond. Keep in mind that what may be stressful for one person can be a source of excitement for others.

The effects of stress
Stress can have effects throughout your body on both your physical and mental health. It can affect:

Regaining your balance
If stress has taken over your life, it's time to regain some control. Your health depends on it. Here are some ideas:

If you still cannot get a handle on your stress, talk to your doctor. He or she can recommend a counselor who could help you find other ways to reduce or manage the stress in your life. *

* Always check your benefit plan first to understand what care will be covered.