Understanding How Stress Affects Your Health

As International Stress Awareness Week runs from the 7th to the 11th of November, we thought that now was a good time to look at how stress affects your health. Stress is something that we all experience in our lives and, for most of us, it is manageable. In some cases it’s even beneficial. However, in certain situations, it can have a negative impact.


What Is Stress?

Stress is the reaction that the body has to a perceived threat, this can be real or imagined. It comes with all kind of symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irritability or anger
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Inability to ‘switch off’
  • Panic attacks
  • Excessive sweating
  • An upset stomach

The stress response is mediated by a complicated interplay of nervous, endocrine and immune mechanisms which involves activation of the sympathetic-adreno-medullar (SAM) axis, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and the immune system. It is an adaptive response, preparing you to deal with the stressor, at first…

When looking at how stress affects your health, it is important to note that some stress, every now and then, is totally fine. However, repetitive acute stress and chronic stress can be damaging.


Repetitive Acute Stress


Acute stress refers to the immediate, unpleasant feelings experienced after exposure to a stressor, this is the kind mentioned above, which is totally fine and should not make you worry about how stress affects your health. However, this will become problematic if it is repeated over and over again.


Chronic Stress


Chronic stress is when the unpleasant feelings will not go away, instead they are constant and experienced over a long period of time. It can make people feel overwhelmed and exhausted, which can be debilitating. If you are struggling in this way, it is probably time to look more closely at how stress affects your health.


How Stress Affects Your Health


You need to look at the long-term impact of stress, not just the immediate, unpleasant physiological sensations. Those who suffer with repetitive acute or chronic stress are at higher risk of:

Cardiovascular Disease – added to by the high blood pressure that comes with stress, and maladaptive coping strategies e.g. use of alcohol/drugs or overeating, resulting in obesity

Cognitive Performance – working memory, attention, response inhibition and cognitive flexibility have all been found to be impaired by stress

Anxiety And Depression – excessive stress is linked to anxiety and depression and, unfortunately, the symptoms of these illnesses can cause further stress, creating a vicious circle.


How To Reduce The Negative Impacts Of Stress


There are many things that you can do to minimise how stress affects your health in a negative way, such as:

Seek Support – turn to your support system for help. Talk to friends, family or a support group about what is happening and how you’re feeling.

Decaffeinate – caffeine can add to your stress levels as it can make you feel jittery and nervous. You may find yourself feeling calmer if you cut out caffeine, and your sleep may improve.

Work On Your Sleeping Pattern – stress is associated with both too much and too little sleeping. Try to decide on a time to go to bed and a time to wake up, and stick to it!

Think Positive – this is a lot easier said than done, but it is important to try to think as positively as you can. Don’t beat yourself up and make sure you’re setting yourself manageable goals.

Seek Help – If these things are not helping you, then it may be time to get some professional help.


Dr Jan Can Help


Dr Jan has years of experience in helping people deal with their stress levels, particularly high achievers with successful careers. With his help, you will learn how to control your stress better, allowing you to channel your energy into things you actually enjoy! To get started, book your FREE Discovery Call!

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