Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. During stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. You’ve gotten ready to act. It is how you protect yourself.
Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including: Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke.
A little stress every now and then is not something to be concerned about. Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including:
Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. And, not all stress is bad. In small doses, stress can help you accomplish tasks and prevent you from getting hurt. For example, stress is what gets you to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of you. That’s a good thing.
Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Menstrual problems
- Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women
- Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
If you’re stressed out, you might also experience:
- Excessive worry
- Persistent negative thinking
- Overeating or eating too little
- Drug and alcohol use
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Headaches or stomachaches
- Neglecting responsibilities at school, work or home