Physical Illnesses Related to Stress

By Tess Thompson

Stress-related physical illnesses are commonly referred to as psycho-physiological disorders or psychosomatic illnesses. Even though the general perception is that stress causes psychological problems, the reality is that psycho-physiological disorders and illnesses are nearly as common. It is just that most people fail to correlate stress with physical symptoms and problems.

Stress produces a response from the central nervous system that initiates certain actions within the body. We do not have conscious control over these actions. Continuous stress results in constant alertness, something that can adversely affect certain organs. For example, the stress response can cause the heart to beat faster, something that the blood vessels may not be able to tolerate if the pressure is maintained at high levels for a long time.

The link between stress and cardiovascular disease is fairly well known. As age advances, the fatty deposits often cause constriction in blood vessels. Prolonged stress causes high blood pressure, and a simultaneous constriction of blood vessels leads to cardiovascular problems like heart attack, stroke and even heart failure.

There are other ways in which the stress response affects some of the body systems that are not necessary for immediate survival. As part of the stress reaction, these body systems and functions are put on hold. While this is not a dangerous option when the stress is temporary in nature, it becomes a major concern if the stress is prolonged. A classical example of such a suspension of activities is the temporary cessation of the digestive system. Bowel disorders like irritable bowel syndrome are often seen among those who experience extreme stress. In certain cases, stress compromises the immune system of the body, which may also lead to irritable bowel syndrome.

Weight gain is usually seen in people who resort to ‘comfort eating’ as a strategy for coping with stress. There are however, positive natural stress relief techniques. However, these need time to understand, adopt and practice.

Whether or not stress directly causes gastric ulcers or peptic ulcers in the stomach is a debatable issue. However, constant stress does make the pain worse. It is also known to delay and restrict the healing of ulcers.

Many stress-related physical illnesses are well understood, but there is still a fair amount of confusion regarding the direct effects of stress on human physiology. The majority of the body organs are mutually dependent on each other, and it is reasonable to assume that one problem can lead to others.

Constant stress can compromise the immune system to a great extent, making a person more susceptible to infections. Returning back to a normal, relaxed mental and physical state is important. Stress management and overcoming worry through various techniques and an acceptance of the inevitable can ensure that you lead a stress-free life and avoid psycho-physiological diseases.


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