Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from challenging demands that exceed a person’s current abilities to cope. When your system becomes overwhelmed, you experience stress as a protective response to a perceived threat. Stress affects everyone in different ways, which can result in numerous long-term physical and mental effects.
Types of Stress
There are three main forms of stress:
- Routine stress: caused by pressures of work, school, family, and other daily responsibilities.
- A sudden negative change: this kind of stress happens as a result of losing a job, a breakup, an illness, or another significant change in your life.
- Traumatic stress: occurs when you are in danger of being seriously hurt or killed, such as a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster. Sometimes this can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Long Term Physical Effects of Stress
Research has found that stress experienced over a long period of time can compromise one’s immune system. This can negatively impact an individual’s ability to fight common infections and recover from illness.
Not only can your immune system be weakened, but stress is also associated with high blood sugar. This occurs because stress causes your liver to release extra sugar into the bloodstream. Over time, this can even lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Stress has been connected to high blood pressure since stress hormones can tighten your blood vessels. Combined with an increased heart rate, high blood pressure can damage your arteries, eventually leading to a heightened risk for heart disease.
Another system that stress affects in your body is the gastrointestinal system, meaning that you may acquire irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, or constipation. In general, your body will reduce the amount of energy that it spends on non-essential tasks when stressed, leading to a lack of energy and motivation.
Long Term Mental Effects of Stress
With prolonged exposure to stress, your brain may experience changes in structure and function due to the impact of cortisol on various neurochemical processes, especially in the hippocampus where learning and memory occur. Stress can affect the following cognitive processes:
- Impair learning
- Make concentration difficult
- Cause brain fog
- Evoke memory loss
- Trigger and intensify headaches
- Increase the risk of depression and mood swings
How to Handle Stress
In order to manage and handle stress, it is important to identify and cope with the cognitive and behavioral factors that contribute to it. For example, people who engage in highly demanding activities during their workday may often not get enough sleep or follow a poor diet. Make corrections to this type of lifestyle by prioritizing the following:
- Set realistic expectations for work and school
- Keep track of bills and their due date
- Identify support systems in the community
- Get enough sleep (7-8 hours each night)
- Exercise regularly
- Follow a nutritious diet
- Socialize with friends on a consistent basis
- Talk to a therapist for emotional support
- Minimize distractions when completing tasks that require concentration
- Practice relaxation exercises
Contact Outset Health
At Outset Health, our priority is to help patients take control of their wellness. By handling stress as it occurs, we can prevent these long-term effects from negatively impacting us as we age. Contact us today, and call (866) 434-1403 to regain a peaceful quality of life.