Stress is a natural reaction to life experiences. Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Anything from work and family responsibilities to serious life events such as a new health diagnosis, death of a loved one or job loss can trigger stress. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health by helping you cope with potentially serious situations – the fight or flight response.
Yet if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a serious toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. Symptoms of chronic stress can include:
- Increased Stroke Risk – If you’re stressed, you may have a higher risk of stroke than your more mellow peers, according to an observational study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
- Weakened Immune Response – Research suggests that stress has a negative effect on your immune system; with a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences even showing it can make the symptoms of a common cold worse. When you’re stressed, you produce too much cortisol, a stress hormone that helps the body respond to inflammation. When this happens, the immune system becomes resistant, meaning your body can’t fight off viruses normally.
- Pinched Muscles – The pain in your neck that you attributed to long hours at the computer could actually be a symptom of stress. Stress affects the musculoskeletal system, resulting in tight, contracting muscles and/or spasms in muscles.
- Heart Attack – A study published in the European Heart Journal, showed that people who believe that they are stressed—and that the stress is affecting their health—have more than twice the risk of heart attack as those who don’t feel that way.
- Nausea – Stress can upset the stomach, and nausea can be a byproduct of worry. In moments of stress, the body responds by releasing hormones, such as adrenaline, that trigger the fight-or-flight response. Alertness is heightened, respiration and heart rate increase, and muscles are primed for a physical response. These hormones flow through the whole body, and when they reach the digestive tract, the stomach responds by increasing acid production, causing feelings of nausea.