Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand.
It is also a state of mental or emotional strain caused by adverse circumstance, Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not realize it.
Sometimes, stress just comes and goes. But if you are facing a lot of pressure or problems, you may start to feel like you’re often too stressed out. Signs that you are getting too stressed may include: Feeling down or tired.
WHAT IS MENTAL STRESS?
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health. Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety.
Anything that causes more emotional and physical stress than the body can handle can lead to a nervous breakdown or trigger an underlying medical condition.
Chronic stress may also cause disease, either because of changes in your body or the overeating, smoking and other bad habits people use to cope with stress. Other forms of chronic stress, such as depression and low levels of social support, have also been implicated in increased cardiovascular risk.
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT HEALTH?
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between stressors. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds. The body’s autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the “fight or flight response”, is activated in case of an emergency. However, this response can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress. Prolonged activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body both physical and emotional.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress – a negative stress reaction. Distress can disturb the body’s internal balance or equilibrium, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction, and problems sleeping. Emotional problems can also result from distress. These problems include depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress is linked to 6 of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
Stress also becomes harmful when people engage in the compulsive use of substances or behaviors to try to relieve their stress. These substances or behaviors include food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, and the Internet. Rather than relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances and compulsive behaviors tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems. The distressed person becomes trapped in a vicious circle.
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS OF STRESS?
Chronic stress can wear down the body’s natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including the following:
Dizziness or a general feeling of “being out of it.”
General aches and pains.
Grinding teeth, clenched jaw.
Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms.
Increase in or loss of appetite.
Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders.
Cold and sweaty palms.
Weight gain or loss.
Upset stomach, diarrhea.
How we react to a difficult situation will affect how stress affects us and our health. A person who feels they do not have enough resources to cope will be more likely to have a stronger reaction, and one that can trigger health problems. Stressors affect individuals in different ways.
Some experiences that are generally considered positive can lead to stress, such as having a baby, going on a trip, moving to a nicer house, and being promoted.
This is because they often involve a major change, extra effort, new responsibilities, and a need for adaptation. They are also steps into the unknown. The person wonders if they will cope.
A persistently negative response to challenges can have a detrimental effect on health and happiness. However, being aware of how you react to stressors can help reduce the negative feelings and effects of stress, and to manage it more effectively.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP.
If you’re not sure if stress is the cause or if you’ve taken steps to control your stress but your symptoms continue, see your doctor. Your healthcare provider may want to check for other potential causes. Or consider seeing a professional counselor or therapist, who can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping tools.
Also, get emergency help immediately if you have chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath, jaw or back pain, pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, sweating, dizziness, or nausea. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.
ACT TO MANAGE STRESS
If you have stress symptoms, taking steps to manage your stress can have many health benefits. Explore stress management strategies, such as:
Getting regular physical activity
Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or massage
Keeping a sense of humor
Spending time with family and friends
Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
Aim to find active ways to manage your stress. Inactive ways to manage stress — such as watching television, surfing the internet or playing video games — may seem relaxing, but they may increase your stress over the long term.
And be sure to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol, and the use of illegal substances.
DO YOU KNOW THAT STRESS CAN LEAD TO STROKE
Stress hormones increase blood pressure, and when those hormones are around long-term, it can lead to high blood pressure, the leading cause of stroke. These stress hormones are also known to lead to diabetes, atherosclerosis, and heart disease – which are all stroke risk factors.
There is an evident association between both acute and chronic emotional stress and risk of stroke.