How Does Stress Affect Your Health?

By Tess Thompson

Stress is much more than emotional strain. It is the body’s response to circumstances that need an adjustment or reaction from you. In many ways, stress is actually a signal for you to take cognizance of a situation and react to it in order to resolve it.

The ability to respond immediately to stressors was acquired in humans during the process of evolution. There were times when humans were often threatened by animals that could tear them apart, which required them to respond without delay or hesitation. They had to either fight or take flight.

The body undergoes physical, mental and emotional changes in stressful conditions. A sudden burst of energy and high levels of endurance are common in stressful conditions. Sometimes the extra energy that is attained is so high that it leads to exceptional strength, something which we may not be otherwise capable of.

The easiest way to understand this is to be aware of yourself and perceive how you feel in threatening situations. While the increase in heart rate, muscle tension and fast breathing may be perceivable, you may not be aware of the rush of blood to the brain and muscles, and the release of stress hormones in your system. The body is, in fact, preparing itself by supplying more blood and oxygen to help you face the impending danger or threat. The process of digestion also stops because energy is needed for you to face the situation.

It is impossible to completely eliminate stress from our lives because it is caused not only by what you do to yourself, but also by various external factors and events beyond your control. Modern life is neither about facing carnivores nor choosing between fight and flight, but the physical changes that evolved over thousands of years still take place when the body perceives a threat. Chronic stress affects your overall health due to the physical changes that occur.

Stress-related physical changes are now perceived to be a major reason behind a vast majority of illnesses.

  • Stress can cause fatigue, headaches and problems with digestion.
  • Frequent stress increases the risk of a stroke.
  • Stress hampers your body’s ability to resist opportunistic infections like colds.
  • It can also aggravate the symptoms of asthma and vulnerability to heart attack.
  • Smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse are escapist behaviors associated with stress, which contribute to early death and disabilities.
  • Stress also interferes with your sex life, leading to loss of sex drive and/or inability to orgasm.
  • Stress handicaps cognition and the ability to weed out unnecessary negative thoughts.

Total avoidance of stress is not possible now; nor is it likely to be in the future. But we can incorporate a system of managing stress in our daily routines. It is important to identify the root cause of the stress and be aware of the emotional response that we have towards it. An honest and realistic evaluation and implementation of changes that you need to make in your environment and in yourself is one of the best ways to relieve stress.


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