Health Impacts of Stress

Stress – can’t live without it, can’t live with (too much of) it! In small doses, stress can motivate you to do your best in situations like presenting a research paper or going for a job interview. However, being stressed all the time can have a negative impact on your health.

Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms are often much more obvious. When you feel stressed, your body reacts in multiple ways. Your muscles tense up, your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes shallow, you may feel butterflies in your tummy, and so on.

This goes to show how many bodily systems – the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems – are affected by stress. That’s a whole lot of stuff going on in the body!

You may not think that these physical symptoms amount to much, since you obviously can’t peek into your body to see their effects. But here’s something to consider: studies have shown that stress is associated with coronary heart disease¹, exacerbations of autoimmune diseases², and even something as simple as catching a cold³!

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Emotional and cognitive well-being

Other than the impact on your physical health, stress can also affect your emotional and cognitive well-being. As stress mounts, you may start experiencing difficulties with attention and concentration, and you may feel less able to cope with everyday stressors that normally wouldn’t faze you. This inability to cope may in turn lead to tense relationships with your loved ones and colleagues as you struggle to deal with the strain.

As you can see, stress can affect you in varied ways, and having it chronically can lead to myriad issues.

How to manage it

The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to stave off the negative impact of stress. Physical symptoms such as muscle tension may be alleviated through the use of muscle relaxation techniques, which have also been shown to decrease stress-related disorders such as recurrent headaches. Deep breathing exercises can help with other symptoms like shallow breathing, and are useful as a preventative measure when you feel stress begin to creep up on you.

For more tips, have a look here. Remember that no matter how stressful your life is, there are ways to reduce its negative impact on you!

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¹Ironson, G.H. (1992). Job stress and health. In C.J. Cranny, P.C. Smith, & E.F. Stone, How people feel about their jobs and how it affects their performance (pp. 219-239). New York: Lexington.
²Harbuz, M.S., Chover-Gonzales, A.J., & Jessop, D.S. (2003). Hypothalamo-pituitar-adrenal axis and chronic immune activation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 992, 99-106.
³Cohen, S., Frank, E., Doyle, W.J., Skoner, D.P., Rabin, B.S., & Gwaltney, J.M., Jr. (1998). Types of stressors that increase susceptibility to the common cold in healthy adults. Health Psychology, 17, 214-223.