How Stress Affects Your Health

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on April 29, 2013

Stressed man

Everyone feels stress from time to time, but many of us are unaware of the fact that many commonly-experienced imbalances in health may actually be our body’s way of responding to physical and mental stress.

Recent scientific studies have indicated that the human body’s reaction to stress could be one of the main causes of many life-threatening diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

When we feel that we are in danger, a stress response surges through us and our bodies under-go an explosion of stress hormones that, over-time, are hazardous to our health.

Ways Stress Negatively Affects Your Health

1. Increased Heart Rate
When we enter into the fight or flight mode, the heart-rate naturally speeds up. While this may be a great thing if we need to run quickly, overtime this can significantly tire out the heart and lead to cardiovascular diseases, increased cholesterol and even excess belly fat.

2. Digestion Slows
When we go into a state of stress, the energy needed for digestive processes is immediately sent to external areas of the body, such as the head, heart and limbs. This leads to a whole host of chronic stress-related digestive conditions. Chronic constipation and irritable bowel conditions are directly related, in many cases, to chronic stress. In fact, estimates show that as many as 20 percent of Americans experience chronic constipation and symptoms of IBS. Changes in appetite are also a stress-related condition. When we experience mental and emotional stress, we often reach for comfort foods to give us the false sensation of being calm. Similarly, some people react in the opposite way, losing their appetites when stress or anxiety levels are high.

3. High Blood Pressure Problems
Studies show that when we are under stress, blood flow to the brain and muscles increase up to 400 percent. While this may be useful if we are planning on leaping into a tree, over time, chronic stress creates the scene for high blood pressure conditions or even a stroke.

4. Weight Gain
Evidence shows that increased cortisol hormone levels caused by prolonged stress can lead to overall weight gain.

5. General Muscle Tension and Chronic Fatigue
Muscles become tight when we are stressed. Because the muscles are constantly in a “gripping” state, they later become over-worked and leave us with a general sensation of body fatigue. Studies show that generalized back pain may also be a response to chronic stress-related muscle gripping along the spine.

6. Insomnia and Other Sleep-Conditions
When the mind is continually spinning and stressing on the problems of life, it can be hard to unwind when the day is over. Insomnia is a sleep condition that is directly related to mental stress.

7. Reduced Happiness and Quality of Life
Stress causes negative mental and emotional reactions. When we are stressed, it can be difficult for us to establish healthy social relationships, as we are constantly working to preserve personal stasis.

8. Immune Conditions
Stress negatively effects the blood cells that aid in your body’s ability to ward off infections, leading to greater likelihood of developing colds, flu and degenerative disorders.

9. Other Conditions
Many modern studies are now linking the experience of chronic stress with a multitude of conditions. In fact, estimates show that up to two-thirds of all medical visits are for stress-induced conditions. Other stress-related conditions include depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, lack of sexual desire, chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS, immune disorders, memory loss, reproductive disorders, cold and flu conditions, skin imbalances such as acne, stunted growth and hair loss.

On a Personal Note

We all get stressed out at some point. It’s inevitable and part of life. However, there are a few things you can do to help relieve stress, as well as stop it from coming in the first place. I recommend the following for stress relief:

How does stress affect your health? Do you do anything special for stress relief? If so, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

  • health and exercise over 50

    I contacted shingles over a month ago and my doctor told me it was stress-related. Either physical, emotional or both. For me, it was the emotional type.

  • Diane Lassen, RN, HHC

    Stress is very much the plague of modern day society. Most of the chronic diseases we see in industrialized countries can be attributed to stress– we don’t see these same diseases in underdeveloped countries!
    As a health counselor, I have not found a client yet who does not have issues with managing stress. In fact, it is often a reason I am consulted in the first place.
    Aside from a whole-foods diet and an emphasis on alkaline foods, I also recommend:
    limiting caffeine and other stimulating substances. These can exacerbate nervousness, tension and anxiety. Know how your body reacts to caffeine.
    Exercising, as possible, as soon as you encounter a really stress-provoking event. Taking 10 minutes to take a fast walk is often enough to work off that adrenaline and move that cortisol through the body.
    pay attention to muscle tension in the jaw, shoulders and neck, and use body posture techniques to unlock the jaw, drop the shoulders, and lift the chin.
    Smile or laugh. an excellent remedy for stress.!
    Diane L Lassen, RN, Certified Holistic Health Counselor

  • Mark Shore

    Thanks for the article. I have a number of these symptoms and your advice is definitely useful. I think that body detoxification is a good option for me.

  • Sue Stevens

    I joined a class which focused on learning ‘to live in the moment’. Part of the discussion involved not making judgements on things that really don’t matter. This along with regular exercise has really helped me to deal with life’s more negative stresses.

  • D.

    Nice article! My preferred method of stress relief is exercise. Ironically, I’ve also found that things as simple as staying hydrated or getting to bed no later than 11pm also works very well.

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