It’s not always easy to see how stress affects your health. Sitting for hours on end watching television, eating an entire half of a pizza with extra cheese, or staying up till dawn drinking and smoking are clearly bad for your health. An aching back, an upset stomach, or a day-long headache at the office the next day are the immediate consequences of these unhealthy behaviors (although they can lead to more serious, lifelong health problems). The effects of stress, however, are more subtle. Stress can affect your health in a number of ways, but it’s not always clear when stress causes health problems.
It’s not just that it’s more difficult to see how stress impacts your health, compared with other lifestyle choices. Many people recognize that they experience chronic stress, and that it affects their lives, but they don’t take appropriate steps to manage that stress.
In many cases, this lack of action is because people don’t take stress seriously. They might disregard their frustrations at home, or pressures at work, or their outbursts in morning traffic. Stress can have negative effects on your health, though, and stress shouldn’t be taken lightly.
You don’t want to stress over stress, but you should take stress seriously.
What is stress?
Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical strain or tension. It’s how your brain and body respond to different demands. Any stimulus that causes feelings of fear, anger, frustration, or discomfort is called a stressor.
Stress is a defense mechanism. When under stress, your body releases hormones. These hormones cause increased brain activity, raise your pulse, and cause muscle tension. Stress can help you overcome challenging situations, but sustained stress can be harmful.
Acute stress is fleeting. This can include things such as a nervous feeling before giving a speech, anger because of an argument with friend, or the rush you get when you jump into a pool from a high dive.
Chronic stress lasts for longs periods of time. Chronic stress is associated with sustained problems that cause you discomfort. This could include a bad relationship, an unhappy work situation, or big life changes.
How can stress affect your health?
Acute stress is normal, and stressors are different for different people. Not dealing with stress, or dealing with excessive levels of stress, however, can have negative health effects.
In the same way that stressors can vary from person to person so can the negative health effects of stress.
Here are a few ways that stress can affect your health.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Digestive problems
- High blood pressure
- Muscle pain
- Sleep problems
Stress can also lead to unhealthy behaviors such as social withdrawal, unhealthy eating habits, or substance use, and can also worsen preexisting conditions.
Managing stress is important to your health.
Stress has many negative health effects. It’s important to recognize that stress can have a big impact on your health.
Remember that growing accustomed to chronic stress isn’t the same thing as managing stress. Getting used to stress and managing stress are two different things.
Take the time to manage your stress in a healthy way each day. Here are a few ways that you can manage your stress. Talk to your doctor for more ways to help manage stress in your life.