Stress: Understanding The Side Effects To Your Health

May 5, 2021
Stress: Understanding The Side Effects To Your Health

Stress is a fact of life and can affect individuals in a variety of ways. At some point in life, every individual experiences some degree of stress; some individuals experience signs of stress more often than others. Stress can be manifested in any situation or thought that causes an individual to experience frustration, anger, and nervousness, whereas anxiety is a feeling of fear and apprehension.

Stress can have serious health implications, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and exacerbating medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension. Signs of stress are unavoidable but learning to manage it effectively is critical.


Stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. In fact, the human body is designed to experience and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses—that’s stress. Stress responses help your body adjust to new situations. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. People commonly refer to this as the fight-or-flight mechanism. The body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine which trigger physical reactions.

These factors all improve a person’s ability to respond to a potentially hazardous or challenging situation. Environmental factors that trigger this reaction are called stressors. However, signs of stress can become problematic when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation.


Stress slows down some normal bodily functions, such as those that the digestive and immune systems perform. The body can then concentrate its resources on breathing, blood flow, alertness, and the preparation of the muscles for sudden use. The body changes in the following ways during a stress reaction:

How a person reacts to a difficult situation will determine the effects of stress on their overall health. Some people can experience signs of stress in a row or at once without this leading to a severe stress reaction. An individual who feels as though they do not have enough resources to cope will probably have a stronger reaction that could trigger health problems. Stressors affect individuals in different ways. The reason for this is that they typically involve a significant change, extra effort, new responsibilities, and a need for adaptation. They also often require a person to take steps into the unknown.


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recognizes two types of stress: acute and chronic. Acute Stress is short-term and usually the more common form of stress. Acute stress often develops when people consider the pressures of events that have recently occurred or face upcoming challenges. For example, a person may feel stressed about a recent argument or an upcoming deadline. However, the stress will reduce or disappear once a person resolves the argument or meets the deadline.

Acute stressors are often new and tend to have a clear and immediate solution. Acute stress does not cause the same amount of damage as long-term chronic stress. Keep in mind, that repeated instances of acute stress over an extended period can become chronic and harmful.


Chronic stress, on the other hand, develops over a long period and is more harmful. It occurs when a person can see no way to avoid their stressors and stops seeking solutions. A traumatic experience early in life may also contribute to chronic stress. Chronic stress makes it difficult for the body to return to a normal level of stress hormone activity, which can contribute to health problems such as cardiovascular, respiratory, and lack of sleep.

A constant state of stress can also increase a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can develop when stress becomes chronic. Chronic stress can continue unnoticed as people can become used to feeling agitated and hopeless. People with chronic stress are at risk of having a final breakdown that can lead to suicide, violent actions, a heart attack, or stroke.


Furthermore, chronic stress and exposure to emotional events can also cause a psychogenic fever. This means the fever is caused by psychological factors instead of a virus or other types of inflammatory cause. In some people, chronic stress causes a persistent low-grade fever between 99 – 100°F (37 – 38°C).


People react differently to stressful situations. Previous experiences may affect how a person reacts to stressors. Some common major life events that can trigger stress can include:

  • Bereavement
  • Driving in a heavy storm or fear of accidents
  • Excessive noise and overcrowding
  • Family domestic problems
  • Fear of crime
  • Illness
  • Job issues or retirement
  • Lack of time or money
  • Moving homes
  • Parenting
  • Pregnancy loss
  • Relationship, marriage, and divorce
  • Uncertainty about an important outcome


Treatments can include self-help and when an underlying condition is causing stress, certain medications can help. Therapy and counseling are also helpful treatments for people continuously experiencing signs of stress in their daily lives. People may find that the following lifestyle measures can help manage or prevent stress-induced feelings of being overwhelmed.


There is no identifiable reason why one person may feel less stressed than another when facing the same stressor. Mental health conditions, such as depression, or a building sense of frustration, injustice, and anxiety can make some people feel stressed more easily than others.

The first step for maintaining your mental health is knowing how to detect the signs of stress to then be able to take proper actions to reduce its effects on your overall health. If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed by stressors, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and recommend a therapist or counselor to help you better handle your stress.

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