The Many Harmful Effects of Stress

By Gary Wickman

Stress is not just something that makes us feel nervous and edgy; it is a real concern for our health and well being. Studies have shown that people who suffer from high levels of stress are prone to many illnesses and psychological disorders. Researchers have been trying for years to determine what makes some people more "tightly wound" than others and to date the only explanation seems to be based on each individual's capacity to handle everyday stressors. Some people are good at remaining calm in the most extreme situations, while others are very quick to become upset about the smallest details. Following are just some of the harmful side effects of stress.

Stroke and Heart Disease
There has been a link made over the past decade or so between stress and certain disorders of the cardiovascular system. Many people who suffer from high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time have later been diagnosed with heart disease or suffered from strokes, and even hypertension. Stress causes your heart to work over time because you are so wound up all the time that you don't even give yourself a chance to enjoy life. In addition, stress causes an elevated heart rate and can cause your arteries to constrict which could lead to a number of issues. While there are other causes for heart disease, such as smoking and excessive drinking or substance abuse, stress is among one of the main causes.

Depressive Disorders and Anxiety
People who show a higher level of sensitivity to stress have been found more apt to develop certain psychological issues such as anxiety disorders or even severe depression. When you spend all of your time worrying about everything under the sun, your state of mind is compromised because you do not have the ability to just relax and let your guard down. Chronic stress in itself is a very debilitating disorder but the onset of a more serious psychological issue can be quite a challenge to treat in a person who cannot handle stress. Many people are prescribed anti-stress and anxiety drugs each year and of those people at least 50% of them go on to experience other, more serious complications if the treatment they are receiving for stress is ineffective.

Weight Changes
Because people have many different methods of dealing with stress, one of the main side effects of stress can be extreme fluctuations in weight. Some people may eat much more when they are stressed out causing them to gain massive amounts of weight. Conversely, some people have absolutely no appetite when they are stressed out. These people can become unhealthy due to a lack of nutrition, or they can cause their body's metabolism to change in negative ways. In addition, stress has been directly linked to a significant increase in belly fat because of the stress hormone called cortisol. These weight problems can lead to a variety of other issues such as eating disorders.

Difficulty Sleeping
Most of the time people who suffer from disorders such as Insomnia, also suffer from high levels of stress. The two seem to go hand in hand and many studies suggest that treating the stress itself may in turn treat the sleep disorder. The first question a doctor may ask a patient who comes to see him/her with sleep issues will almost always be about the amount of stress present in that person's life. Not only is a lack of sleep dangerous to everyday activities but because the body heals during the process of sleep, not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to your health. The trouble with this effect of stress is that it is almost a catch 22. If you don't sleep enough your mind will not have the ability to handle everyday stress triggers and if you cannot handle stress well, you won't sleep well.

Loss of Memory and Focus
People who suffer from chronic stress may experience difficulty concentrating or staying on task. Studies show that many people who report trouble concentrating also have indicated high levels of stress in their lives. Losing focus can be a very bad thing, especially if you work in an occupation that could bring harm to yourself or others if you are not on target 100% of the time, such as driving a bus, flying a plane, or even operating heavy machinery. It is also quite troublesome to constantly forget details about your everyday life. Stress can have a major impact on your ability to remember things like appointments, when bills are due, and even when to take your roast out of the over so it doesn't burn.

Chronic Fatigue and Pain
Anyone who suffers from some sort of chronic pain, like that associated with arthritis or back injuries will have a heightened sensitivity to their pain as a result of stress. Headaches are also seen to be associated with stress in some cases, hence the term "tension headache". Not only does stress cause your existing pain to feel worse in some cases, but it can also cause you to feel pain because your muscles tighten up so much when you are stressed out. This could lead to neck pain, as well as joint and even lower back aches.

Stress is also linked to things like ulcers and other disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. While there is no direct cure for stress, there are some things that a person can do to eliminate some of the stress in their life. If there is some outside source for the stress such as a person or relationship, it may be a good idea to eliminate that particular stressor from your life altogether. If you are suffering from major stress on the job it may be a good time to ask for a vacation. There are a lot of mental exercises a person can do to help alleviate stress. Sometimes all it takes is a nice long bubble bath with some scented candles burning in the bathroom. Other times it will entail completely removing yourself from a situation that has been known to cause you stress. No matter what the case, if you are suffering from high levels of stress, speak to your doctor or another healthcare worker to see what your options are.