Stress is a given in modern-day living. It can also pose a threat to one’s health depending on how much stress the body absorbs— and how well a person can handle the pressure.
Have you ever heard of illnesses caused by stress? You may think that health problems are the result of bacteria or viruses. What many people do not realize is that stress can also disable the body’s immune system to make you more susceptible to germs in the environment. Many kinds of infirmities result from your immune system’s inability to function properly. Stress, especially the unrelenting kind for which there is no relief, can play havoc with your body’s ability to fight off microscopic invaders or to operate the way it is supposed to. There are many kinds of illnesses caused by stress involving both the body and the mind.
When you’re in a seriously stressful situation, your heart rate speeds up, you breathe faster, your muscles tense and your hands get sweaty. This is your body’s natural response to stress – fight or flight – and it’s caused by the release of hormones, which includes cortisol and adrenaline, in your body.
But what about chronic stress? What effect does that have on your heart?
While a connection has yet to be scientifically proven, initial studies suggest that chronic stress and an unhealthy level of stress hormones may contribute to inflammation of the heart muscle, a factor in heart disease, as well as changes in the way your blood clots, which can increase your risk of a heart attack.
That’s not all. Stress can make your blood pressure spike, as well as make you feel more like overeating, smoking, or skipping out on exercise – all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Excess fat in the belly seems to pose greater health risks than fat on the legs or hips -- and unfortunately, that's just where people with high stress seem to store it. "Stress causes higher levels of the hormone cortisol," says Winner, "and that seems to increase the amount of fat that's deposited in the abdomen."
Stress can worsen diabetes in two ways. First, it increases the likelihood of bad behaviors, such as unhealthy eating and excessive drinking. Second, stress seems to raise the glucose levels of people with type 2 diabetes directly.
Stress is considered one of the most common triggers for headaches -- not just tension headaches, but migraines as well.
4. Depression and anxiety.
It's probably no surprise that chronic stress is connected with higher rates of depression and anxiety. One survey of recent studies found that people who had stress related to their jobs -- like demanding work with few rewards -- had an 80% higher risk of developing depression within a few years than people with lower stress.
5. Respiratory Disorders.
In asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), inflamed airways prevent your lungs from getting enough oxygen. Stress can increase inflammation, making your symptoms worse. Stress can also make you hyperventilate, and for someone with breathing problems, that can bring on a flare-up.
Many people who have the respiratory disease also have a high rate of anxiety and panic attacks, and COPD patients with higher anxiety levels tend to have more severe symptoms. Though stress does not seem to affect the way these diseases progress, it can make dealing with symptoms more difficult.
6. High Blood Pressure.
A stressful event can make your blood pressure skyrocket. Certain hormones surge under pressure and make your heart beat faster and your blood vessels narrow. Once the situation is over, your blood pressure should return to normal. If you experience these spikes often enough, though, it can damage your kidneys, heart, and blood vessels.