Dealing with stress can be hard on one’s mental and physical well-being. In this article, learn more about how stress can affect and even damage the body.
Effects on the Body: Physically, Mentally, and Behaviorally
Even though stress is often associated with an emotional or mental feeling, it can take a toll on the body physically. Stress can cause headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, or stomach pain (which can often lead to other gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or constipation). It also can impair sleeping, sex drives, and fatigue. If stress is not managed appropriately, it can lead to long-term physical damage such as chronic migraines, hair loss, muscle disorders, and even respiratory or cardiac diseases (American Physiological Association, 2018). Stress can also impact your mental state and moods. When untreated, stress can increase anxiety and depression, deter motivation and focus, and continue to spiral the mind into a state of feeling overwhelmed. Restlessness and feeling more irritable or angry are also other common side effects of stress. Long-term effects of mental stress include insomnia, developing an anxiety disorder, and severe depression (The American Institute of Stress, 2020).
Someone dealing with untreated stress may develop uncharacteristic behaviors. This can look like frequent angry outbursts, social withdrawal, or increasing alcohol or tobacco use. These behavioral changes can also lead to irreparable damage if not managed appropriately. For example, increased alcohol and tobacco use could lead to an addiction. These types of addictions could pose several implications to the body, including developing liver disease or cancer.
Types of Stress
The American Psychological Association groups stress into three categories: acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. Acute stress can be defined as short-term stress, and it’s normal for everyone to experience it. For example, getting into a car accident or the nerves one gets before public speaking are common examples of acute stress. Some types of acute stress can be healthy (i.e. resolving a conflict), and happen every so often. However, when acute stress happens too frequently, it turns into episodic acute stress. This type of situational stress can lead to stress and anxiety disorders.
Chronic stress is defined as consistent stress over a long period of time, such as weeks or even months. Different stress factors like financial issues, troubles at work or school, or unhealthy relationships can lead to chronic stress.
Unfortunately, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems if not treated, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Depression or anxiety
- Skin problems, such as acne or eczema
- Menstrual problems: This can look like having irregular menstrual cycles, etc. (Nagma et al., 2015).
Asking for stress management help can be hard, especially if someone is already feeling overwhelmed by stress. Below are some helpful resources to help manage stress accordingly.
- CDC’s Coping with Stress: https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/cope-with-stress/index.html
- CDC’s Stress: https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/stress.html
- WMMC’s Coping and Managing Stress Blog
- Stress reduction and mindfulness apps: The Google Play and Apple App stores have several apps that help manage stress anxiety. Two applications we recommend include the MindShift app and the Calm app.
Early and immediate stress management is key to stress management. Be sure to talk to your primary care doctor about your symptoms and develop a stress management plan that’s right for you.
- American Psychological Association. (2018, November 1). Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Healthy ways to handle life’s stressors. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/tips
- Hall-Flavin, D. K. (2021, September 14). Can stress make you lose your hair? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/expert-answers/stress-and-hair-loss/faq-20057820#:~:text=Three%20types%20of%20hair%20loss,combing%20or%20washing%20your%20hair.
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, March 24). How stress affects your body and behavior. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-anagement/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
- Nagma, S., Kapoor, G., Bharti, R., Batra, A., Batra, A., Aggarwal, A., & Sablok, A. (2015, March 1). To Evaluate the Effect of Perceived Stress on Menstrual Function. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR. Retrieved March 14, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413117/
- Stress effects. The American Institute of Stress. (2020, June 16). Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.stress.org/stress-effects
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Stress and your health: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm