Stress: It Isn’t Just In Your Head - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on April 08, 2015

Stress: It Isn’t Just In Your Head

Stress: It Isn’t Just In Your Head

Stress, over time, can cause mental anguish,
but also wreak havoc on all aspects of your health.

A life free of stress sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, stress affects all of us no matter our situation in life. While some stress is okay, and maybe even beneficial, too much stress can wear you down and make you sick mentally and physically.

Stress is your body’s reaction to harmful situations, both real and perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body, which allows you to act in a way to avoid danger. This stress response is known as “fight or flight.” When a threat triggers you to go into fight or flight mode, your heart begins to race, your breathing quickens, muscles tighten and your blood pressure rises slightly.

Although this stress response is a universal human response, what can cause it is different for every person. And some people are able to cope with it better than others. Not all stress is harmful – it’s what can cause you to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting another car when driving. Your body is built to handle small doses of stress, but not long-term chronic stress. That kind of stress has harmful consequences.

Stress, over time, can cause mental anguish, but also wreak havoc on all aspects of your health. Common effects of stress on your mood include anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, sadness or depression. Stress also impacts your behavior, which can include overeating or undereating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use and social withdrawal. And, when it comes to your body, stress can cause headaches, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, upset stomach and issues with sleep.

These stress symptoms are tough to live with. And if you’re struggling with ongoing, chronic stress, it can cause or exacerbate some serious health issues. It can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety and personality disorders. It can also cause or worsen heart disease, including high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks and stroke.

Chronic stress can also lead to obesity and other eating disorders, menstrual problems and sexual dysfunction. Skin and hair issues can also stem from chronic stress, such as acne, psoriasis, eczema and permanent hair loss. And gastrointestinal problems, like GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis and irritable colon are health issues that can be caused or worsened by long-term stress.

Although stress is a part of life, there are things you can do to manage it so that it doesn’t take hold of your life and health. Some stress management strategies include physical activity, relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga and tai chi. In addition, eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding tobacco and excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption can also help manage your stress.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of stress but you’re not sure if stress is causing them, or if you have taken measures to control stress and your symptoms continue, it may be time to see your doctor. You doctor may be able to help you with medications or counseling as well as checking for any other potential causes of the symptoms.

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