Stress is your body’s response to a real or perceived threat. Some stress is good for you and forces you to take action, like looking for a job when you’ve been laid off. However, too much stress can suppress your immune system and cause you to get sick more easily.
Chronic stress can increase your risk of many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. According to one study, 60 to 80 percent of doctor’s office visits may be stress-related.
Illnesses Caused by Stress
Stress can cause a number of physical symptoms and illnesses. Symptoms may appear as your stress level increases and the stress continues. These symptoms usually go away when your stress levels decrease.
Some of the symptoms commonly caused by stress include:
- increased blood pressure
- muscle tension
- rapid breathing
- shortness of breath
- increased heart rate
If your stress levels remain high or you experience frequent stress, your risk of getting sick increases.
Chronic stress and exposure to emotional events can cause a psychotic fever. This means that the fever is caused by psychological factors rather than a virus or other type of inflammation. In some people, chronic stress causes persistent low-grade fevers between 99 and 100˚F (37 to 38°C). Other people experience a rise in body temperature that can reach 106˚F (41°C) when they are exposed to an emotional event.
Psychological fever can affect anyone under stress, but it most commonly affects young women.
The Common Cold
A 2012 study found that chronic psychological stress prevents the body from properly regulating inflammatory responses. Inflammation has been linked to the development and progression of many diseases. People who are stressed for long periods of time are more likely to get colds when exposed to cold-causing germs.
Evidence shows that stress prevents your digestive system from working properly, affecting your stomach and colon. Stress can cause a wide range of gastrointestinal symptoms, including:
- abdominal pain
Stress has also been shown to increase symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and may be one of the main causes of IBS. If you suffer from acid reflux with heartburn, stress can make your symptoms worse by increasing your sensitivity to stomach acid. If not well controlled, inflammation from stomach acid erosion increases your risk of peptic ulcers. Chronic diarrhea or constipation can lead to conditions like hemorrhoids.
Research has linked chronic stress and short periods of acute stress to depression. Stress throws several chemicals in your brain out of balance, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. It also raises your cortisol levels. All of these are linked to depression. When this type of chemical imbalance occurs, it can negatively affect you:
- sex drive
- sleep pattern
Headaches and Migraines
Stress is a common trigger of headaches, including tension and migraine headaches. One study found that resting after experiencing a period of stress can lead to severe migraine headaches within the next 24 hours. This is thought to be due to what is known as the “let-down” effect. The study concluded that medication or behavioral changes can help prevent headaches for people who have stress-related migraines.
Stress is believed to play a major role in obesity. Studies have shown that high cortisol levels caused by chronic stress can influence several factors that lead to weight gain, including poor sleep, which further increases your cortisol levels and belly fat. causes an increase. It also contributes to poor nutrition by increasing your cravings for sweets and refined carbohydrates.
High stress levels have also been shown to increase your chances of failure in weight loss programs. Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Research has found that all types of stress, including emotional stress, work stress, financial stress and major life events, increase the risk of heart disease. Stress raises your blood pressure and cholesterol, which are directly linked to heart disease. Stress also significantly increases your risk of dying from a heart attack.
Stress can make you ache all over. Stress causes your muscles to tense up, which can cause or worsen neck, shoulder, and back pain. Research shows that stress can also increase your sensitivity to pain. People with fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other conditions often report increased pain during times of stress.
How to Manage Stress
Learning how to manage stress can help reduce your symptoms and reduce your risk of getting sick.
Some things that have been shown to help reduce stress levels include:
- getting regular exercise
- listening to music
- getting enough sleep
- cutting back on obligations
- yoga and meditation
- cuddling a pet
- deep breathing exercises
If you’re having trouble managing stress, talk to your doctor about getting professional help. A counselor or therapist can help you identify the sources of your stress and teach you coping strategies that can help you deal with stress better.