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 Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer
Stress is your body’s natural defense mechanism. The stress response can be good, helping you get to safety or face a threat. But being under stress for too long can have a serious negative effect on your health.
Stress is a response to either a physical or an emotional threat. Stress may be short-lived or last a long time. Facing multiple, long-term stressful situations puts extra strain on your body. Over time, the stress may even start to feel normal. Some people feel they should always be demonstrating their worth and live a life filled with stress — many times self-induced.
The physical and mental health effects of stress
People respond in different ways to the same stressor. What is stressful for one person may not be stressful to someone else. Stress can lead to:
- Problems with thinking and focusing. You may have trouble concentrating or remembering things. You may make a series of poor judgments or be overly negative.
- Physical problems. A racing heartbeat, dizziness, chest pain and general pain and achiness are just some of the more common physical effects of stress. It may even impact your sex drive. Continued stress may lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Emotional problems. Are you snapping at your coworkers? Feeling overwhelmed? Moody or unhappy? These may all be a sign of stress. Emotional stresses, especially anger, may spark heart attacks, irregular heartbeats and even sudden death — mostly in people with heart disease. However, some people do not know they have a heart problem until the stress causes a heart attack or something worse. Continued stress may lead to moderate to severe depression and anxiety disorder.
- Behavior problems. Do you find yourself wanting to be alone more than you used to? Are you sleeping more or staying up to all hours, either of which isn’t like you? Are you binge eating or forgetting to eat? All may be stress related.
Regain your balance
If stress has taken over your life, here are some ideas to take back control:
- Take a breath. If you feel your stress levels rising, take a time out. Count to 10. Then rethink the issue.
- Check the source. Monitor your mental state throughout the day. Keep a list of the things that cause you stress. Then you can develop a plan for dealing with the stressors.
- Exercise. Regular, moderate exercise is one of the best stress-busters. Check with your doctor first to see what activity level is right for you.
- Do things you enjoy. Go to a movie, meet a friend for dinner or take up a hobby.
- Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, biofeedback or progressive relaxation techniques.
- Treat yourself well. Make time for healthy meals and get enough sleep. Avoid smoking, drugs, drinking too much alcohol and overeating.
- Get quality sleep. As you aim for the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep, you can also limit your caffeine, remove electronics from your sleeping area, and hit the hay at the same time each night.
- Seek support. Let supportive relatives and friends know that you’re dealing with stress. They may be able to recommend different ideas and perspectives to help you tackle your problems.
If you try some of these tips but still struggle with stress, talk to your doctor. He or she can recommend a counselor who can help you find other ways to reduce or manage the stress in your life.
If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call your health care professional, 911 or a suicide hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or have someone drive you to your nearest emergency department. If your thoughts about hurting yourself or others is more serious to the point where you have a plan and the method to carry out your plan, call 911 immediately.