Stress is a normal part of every day life. However, chronic ongoing stress can cause us problems. So, how does stress affect your health? Keeping reading to find out!
The effect of stress on your mental health
The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) model says that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all interlinked.
We can take each of these in turn when exploring the effect of stress on your health.
Ongoing stress can lead us to feeling anxious, nervous and on edge. We might feel irritable towards other people.
Stress can be tiring on a mental level, so we might feel apathy or a lack of motivation for the things we need to get done.
This could even lead to us feeling low in mood or depress
We might also feel angry. It could be we’re angry with ourselves for being so stressed. Perhaps we feel angry at the situation or people that are triggering our stress.
People may experience difficulties with their memory due to high levels of stress.
Another effect of stress could also be that it impacts on your concentration levels or ability to make decisions.
Stress can also lead people into unhelpful thinking patterns. This might mean they only see the negatives in certain situations, rather than being able to see the positives.
They might have thoughts that they’re not going to be able to cope with their stress, or that they shouldn’t bother trying to improve their situation.
Just like thoughts and emotions, people behave differently in response to stress.
Some people may procrastinate and put things off, because they can’t face the thing they have to get done.
Alcohol and/or illicit substances might be used as a way of coping with the stress. However, this is likely to impact upon the person’s mental health and make things worse in the longer term.
Some people may use food as a way of coping with stress. This could be restricting their food intake or eating excessive amounts of food.
Sleep can also be affected during periods of high levels of stress. Some people may not get good quality sleep, or they may wake up multiple times during the night.
Do you experience any of these signs of stress? Being aware of them can put you in a better position of dealing with stress early on.
The effect of stress on your physical health
When we’re asking how does stress affect your health, we rarely think of the impact on our physical health.
However, as with mental health chronic stress can affect us physically.
The physical signs of stress can include:
- Muscle tension
- Stomach aches
- Having the shakes
- Butterflies in your tummy
- Dry mouth
- A break out of spots
- Needing to use the toilet
- Feeling tired/fatigued
- Heart might beat faster
- Feeling light-headed or sick
- Trouble sleeping
Do you experience any of these physical symptoms when you’re stressed?
It’s important that we know what our personal signs of stress are so that we can remain alert to them.
The flight, fight, and freeze response
When we’re faced with a perceived threat our body goes into automatic pilot so that it can respond to the threat in the way it thinks will best ensure its survival. The body focuses on what’s in front of it and stops functioning ‘normally’.
Adrenaline pumps through our body, increased blood is pumped into our muscles to help us move quickly if we need to. Some people may freeze in response to threats as a way of surviving.
These responses originate from caveman times. However, our brains haven’t caught up with the fact that we don’t need to worry about sabre-toothed tigers anymore!
Even seemingly small threats can cause our bodies to go into this extreme stress response.
When we’re under chronic stress, the body is in fight, flight, freeze response a lot of the time. This can lead us to feeling hyper-vigilant; on high alert all the time.
This can be really tiring and stressful for the body.
The impact of chronic stress on physical health
If, for example, you experience an increase in blood pressure this isn’t necessarily bad in the short term.
However, a chronic increase in blood pressure can lead to high blood pressure that needs addressing.
Another example is that short-term stress might lead to decreased blood flow to the stomach and more acids are secreted. This is because blood is needed in other parts of the body during the stress response.
However, if this continues long term this could lead to weight loss, stomach ulcers, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Alongside this, your body releases the hormone Cortisol, which can weaken your immune system over time.
The ways we can respond to stress
There are three main ways that people tend to cope with stress.
1. Problem-focused coping
This is where people focus on the problem and try to solve it. This is the most proactive approach.
You may not find an ideal solution to your problem. However, by focusing on solving the problem you potentially save yourself from long-term stress.
2. Avoidance-focused coping
Other people may use avoidance as a way of coping with stress. They might use distraction to take themselves away from the problem.
There’s nothing wrong with using distraction techniques to help in certain situations.
However, as much as this might make us feel better in the short-term, the problem is still there needing to be solved.
3. Emotion-focused coping
This is where people tend to focus on the thoughts and feelings they’re having which are associated with the problem.
However, they can become so preoccupied with the thoughts and feelings, that they don’t work towards solving the problem
Which one of these do you tend to fall into most often when you’re stressed? Are there any other ways you could approach stress when it comes up?