The Negative Effects of Chronic Stress

Written By Angelina Umstead

Stress can have a number of negative effects on your body, mood, and even your behavior. While stress is a natural physical and mental reaction, chronic stress can take a toll on your health and should not be ignored. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression, and obesity.

The Hypothalamus and Stress

Everyone has probably heard of the body’s “fight or flight” response, but you might be wondering what is actually happening to your body during a stressful situation. Surprisingly, nearly every system in your body is affected by stress. The hypothalamus, located in the brain, is in charge of telling your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Those hormones actually cause your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to constrict which raises your blood pressure. During the stress response, breathing becomes faster to distribute oxygenated blood to your body. The liver produces extra glucose to give your body more energy. The muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury. Stress will even stimulate the immune system to help avoid infections. Fortunately, when the perceived stress or fear is gone, the hypothalamus should tell all of these systems to go back to normal.

The Negative Effects of Stress Over Time

While all of these bodily responses can be helpful to the immediate stressful situation, the effects of chronic stress on all of these bodily systems can be very detrimental. For example, chronic stress can overwork your heart and when your body’s blood pressure rises, you are at risk for stroke and heart attack. When your liver produces too much glucose due to chronic stress, you may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Over time, stress hormones can even weaken your body’s immune system which is why people under chronic stress are often more susceptible to illnesses. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the common effects that stress has on your body and mood include: headaches, chest pain, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, anger, depression, and insomnia. A recent study published in the journal Neurology even found that high levels of stress are connected to memory loss and even brain shrinkage.

Tips for Relieving Stress

While it is likely impossible to completely eliminate stress from your life, there are ways to reduce and manage stress levels to minimize the health risks associated with too much stress. Of course, everyone is different in what will be effective in reducing stress. The important thing is to find a positive and healthy way to manage stress as it occurs.

Following these 10 tips can help with relieving stress:

1) Exercise

2) Relax muscles by stretching or getting a massage

3) Deep breathing exercises

4) Eating a well-balanced diet

5) Find ways to slow down your life

6) Give your mind a break with meditation or yoga

7) Make time for hobbies you enjoy

8) Talk about problems with family or friends

9) Accept that there are things out of your control

10) Eliminate stressful triggers in your life.