In nature, stress is meant to be a survival mechanism.   A fight or flight response that helps all mammals survive. It helps the gazelle escape the lion, drives the chimpanzee to find food, and helps the woman fight off the mugger.  In situations such as these, stress is not just important, it’s vital.  Too much stress, however, is dangerous.  Stress is often brushed off by many as just a normal part of life.  Stress at work and financial worries, for example are looked at by many as just one of those things. This type of thinking gives stress its reputation; the silent killer. In this article, I’ll talk about the effects of stress and how too much of it affects us in our everyday lives. 

Dangers of Stress

The dangers of stress rears  its ugly head when it’s constant and your body doesn’t have a chance to return to normal. Consider our daily lives. It seems we are constantly bombarded with stressors.  Financial worries, work, kids; all of these things keep us on edge.  Constant stress leads to a negative stress reaction called distress. Distress can lead to all kinds of complications including headache, muscle aches, insomnia and high blood pressure. Over time, distress can cause more serious issues such as heart attack and stroke. One thing to note, is that when an individual is in a constant state of distress, they lose their frame of reference on what it is to feel “normal.” Day to day,  these individuals could be in a constant state of distress and not even realize it until it’s too late.   

Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress

According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), stress can cause anything from insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome to depression and stroke.  Here are some common signs and symptoms as listed by the AIS.

  • Frequent Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Back Pain, Neck Ache
  • Dizziness
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Chest Pain, Palpitations
  • Fast Heartbeat
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Panic Attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty Learning
  • Feeling Lonely or Worthless
  • Irritability
  • Anti-Social Behavior
  • Constant Tiredness
  • Weight Gain or Loss without Diet
  • Reduced Pride in Appearance

Effects of Stress on Body Functions and Processes

Too much stress not only causes harmful physical and physiological effects, it also causes turmoil on the body’s functions and process. Here are some  less noticeable, but equally important effects of stress.

Effects of Stress on the Cardiovascular System

When stressed, heart contractions become stronger and faster.  Blood vessels dilate allowing larger amounts of blood to flow to large muscle groups and the heart. Repeated acute stress, which causes these reactions in the cardiovascular system momentarily, can lead to inflammation of the coronary arteries, which can lead to heart attack. This means that if you have small, quick, stress reactions all through the day, you may be one step closer to a heart attack. 

Effects of Stress on the Nervous System

When stress occurs, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. These hormones put your body into a fight or flight mode.  Heart rate increases, blood pressure increases rapidly, and glucose levels in the blood increase. Increased cortisol levels in your system can lead to weight gain and anxiety.

Effects of Stress on the Respiratory System

Stress can have a profound effect on breathing. It causes rapid breathing which can lead to panic attacks in some individuals.

Effects of Stress on the Muscular System

Stress can also have a direct effect on your muscles. When stress occurs, muscles tense up and contract in various parts of your body. This can lead to muscle aches, including those of the neck and back and even tension headaches and migraines.

Effects of Stress on the Gastrointestinal System

Stress can wreak all kinds of havoc on your gastrointestinal system. Sometimes stress can lead to a sudden loss of appetite, at other times it may cause overeating  or “emotional eating.”  Stress can cause nausea and it may speed up the digestive systems process, leading to diarrhea.

Stress is not to be taken lightly.  You should not buy into the notion that being in a constant state of stress is just one of those things. Of course, stress will happen, and it is in an important part of our everyday lives. It helps us cope with changing situations or dangerous events.  As you have, learned, however, stress can kill you. 

How do you handle stress? Let me know in the comments.

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