Stress is your body’s reaction to pressure from a certain situation or event. It can be a physical, mental, or emotional reaction.
We all deal with stress at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s your job, a family illness, or money troubles. These are common triggers. According to a recent study, about half of all Americans say they’re dealing with moderate stress.
Not all stress is bad. It can make you more aware of things around you and keep you more focused. In some cases stress can give you strength and help you get more done.
Sometimes you can feel stressed for a short period of time. Usually it’s nothing to worry about. Like when you need to hand in a project, or you have to talk in front of a group of people. Maybe you feel “butterflies” in your stomach and the palms of your hands get sweaty.
These types of positive stressors are short-lived, and your body’s way of helping you get through what could be a tough situation.
If you let your stress spiral on for too long, it can have damaging effects on your physical, mental, and emotional health, especially if it becomes chronic. You need to be aware of the warning signs of chronic stress so you can take care of it.
Physical effects of chronic stress include:
- Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Muscle pain or tension
- Digestive issues
- Change in sex drive
- High blood pressure
How Does Stress Affect Health?
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive (“eustress”) — such as a getting a job promotion or being given greater responsibilities — keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative (“distress”) when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.
Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress also becomes harmful when people use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to try to relieve their stress. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems. Consider the following:
- Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
- Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
- Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
- The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.