Effects of Stress on the Human Body and Mind

Updated on August 24, 2017
Michael Kismet profile image

Michael is a self-taught expert in human behavior. He enjoys writing and sharing his insights on the human condition.

long term effects of stress
long term effects of stress | Source

How Stress Affects Your Health

Having stress in our daily lives is a natural state of the human condition, but it can all spiral out of control if not mitigated effectively. When we're under a constant stream of ongoing stress and anxiety, it will quickly affect our mental and physical well-being. Many experience stress from multiple sources, including but not limited to; relationships, money, work, and current events, locally and globally.

Our body's usual stress response was not biologically intended to handle an overload of relentless pressure and tension. That is unnatural for us and affects us negatively in many facets of our lives. Our overall health is largely dependent on our level of stress, and how often we slow down and relax.

I personally have always had a high degree of stress, and conducted extensive research on how stress was affecting my health. What I discovered scared the hell out of me, but now that I know, I've been much calmer and feel hopeful I can eliminate more stress from my life.

Here are some unnerving ramifications of dealing with chronic stress.

Experts refer to stress as the “silent killer.”

— Martin V. Cohen, Ph.D.
stress and depression
stress and depression | Source

How Stress Can Cause Depression

It is perfectly normal to experience daily mood shifts of highs and lows. But under the conditions of chronic stress, the human mind is prone to depression. This happens when the byproduct of stress hormones cause us to feel fatigued, or "run-down".

This low energy feeling can persist and adversely affect our desire and ability to accomplish daily activities and short-term goals. This overwhelming condition is known as "Major Depression". The symptoms of Major Depression include:

  • Insomnia and other sleep problems.
  • Prolonged fatigue; a feeling of low energy.
  • Increased irritability and agitation.
  • Significant changes in one's appetite.
  • A feeling of worthlessness.
  • Feelings of guilt and self-hate.
  • A sense of hopelessness that can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Those that suffer from Major Depression may also develop other mental disorders. If you're chronically stressed and having thoughts of self-harm, please do seek help. If you prefer not to talk to a stranger, try talking with someone you look up to, or someone you trust and respect.

Stress and inflammation leave us vulnerable to depression.

— Emily Deans M.D.

How Stress Affects Your Behavior and Personality

Stress hormones that exist in the body can decrease and impair brain cells. Specifically, in the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, and also the frontal lobe. The hippocampus is the region of the brain responsible for memory retention.

While the frontal lobe is in charge of bypassing irrelevant information, being alert(paying attention), and utilizing judgement to solve different problems. Obviously, those who are repeatedly stressed out will subsequently have difficulties; these difficulties include:

  • Learning new things
  • Retaining knowledge recently acquired
  • Not being well organized
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor decision making
  • More prone to a sense of confusion

Stress and anxiety go hand in hand. Many individuals that deal with stress have some form of anxiety disorder. Don't be too alarmed because you're hardly alone, anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental conditions today.

How Stress Effects the Body

Stress Effects On Your Muscular System

When we're under heavy loads of stress, our muscles will tense up as a physical response to the strain. This automatic response is the way our bodies were designed to defend itself from pain and injury. Only when the initial stress we are under passes will our musculoskeletal system begin to relax and release the pent up tension.

This tension that builds up can also lead to headaches and more severe migraines. Most headaches, minor and moderate is often due to muscle tension in the head, neck, and shoulders. Many physicians recommend more activity to help reduce stress in the muscles, leading to less stress-related musculoskeletal conditions.

Through inactivity, muscle atrophy can exacerbate chronic conditions in the musculoskeletal system. Additionally, more exercise releases natural chemicals in the mind and body, promoting a sense of heightened well-being. The human body was built for movement and activity, not for sitting or laying around.

What Stresses Most People Out

Which do you find most stressful?

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Stress Effects On Your Cardiovascular System

The long term effects of stress will generally lead to a wide range of cardiovascular problems. It can increase blood pressure by elevating stress hormones in the body, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. The constant "fight or flight" response takes a toll on the human body resulting in increased risk for stroke and heart attacks.

Also, in this state of continuing acute stress, it may contribute to artery inflammation in the coronary arteries and vessels. If you're already dealing with conditions that put your heart at risk, stress can figuratively be the final nail in the coffin. But it is rarely ever too late, there are many stress reducing techniques that can help turn things around.

Women's risk for heart disease differs from men's risk when it comes to heart disease that is stress-related. Due to a woman's level of estrogen, blood vessels perform better during times of increased stress, thus guarding them against damage to the heart. However, the levels of estrogen in postmenopausal women decline greatly, thereby losing most of their protection and leaving them more susceptible to the effects of stress.

work related stress
work related stress | Source

Important Stress Facts and Statistics

It's key to understand that stress is how we respond to any needs or demands. It's not something that should be dreaded or seen as unnatural. It is apart of who we are as a species. We were designed to feel stressed, so we can take necessary action when things need to get done.

Yes, too much stress is not healthy for us, but without it, we never would have made it this far. Here are some important facts and statistics everyone should know about stress.

  • We've all heard our hair will turn gray if we are too stressed out, but that is a myth. Although our hair can fall out, due to stress.
  • Chronic stress can weaken the body's immune system, making it more susceptible to infections and diseases.
  • Researchers have discovered that the flavonoids that reside in dark chocolate can lower stress hormones, such as cortisol.
  • Laughter can also lower stress substantially, so joking around and goofing off can actually help manage stress levels.
  • It can make acne worse, researchers call it "stress-related inflammation".
  • Stress can stymie growth in children, essentially lowering developmental growth hormones in the pituitary gland.
  • The three most stressful cities in America to live in are Chicago, IL., Los Angeles, CA., and New York, NY.
  • Women are less likely to have stress-related conditions, such as anger issues, hypertension, and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
  • Studies reveal that women with moderate levels of stress were less likely to harm themselves or commit suicide compared to women that had low or high levels. Clearly, not all stress is bad.

Stress can and does kill millions every year. It is imperative to get help when you feel you can no longer handle it. Please feel free to share this article with friends, family, and anyone you know that could benefit from it. Thank you for spreading awareness.

If you're feeling helpless and overwhelmed with stress and have thoughts of suicide, please seek help, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This service is available to anyone. All calls are completely confidential.

Sources

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Michael Kismet

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      • Michael Kismet profile imageAUTHOR

        Michael Kismet 

        11 months ago from Northern California

        Stress and anxiety definitely go hand in hand in the modern world. Thank you for taking the time to point that out Denise. We should all slow down, every now and then and take stock of what is truly important in our lives.

      • denise.w.anderson profile image

        Denise W Anderson 

        11 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

        It is no wonder that the words "stress" and "anxiety" are so often used in the same sentence! With our fast-paced lifestyle and the emphasis on "getting ahead," we often lose sight of what is really most important in life. It isn't until we have a "wake-up call" with a major health crisis that we stop and think about what is happening to us.

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