Health Impacts of Stress
The country and the world are facing times of monumental change and uncertainty. This uncertainty creates new concerns and significant change for many individuals and families. During times of change, it helps to understand how increased stress can affect mental health.
Read on to learn about the repercussions of increased stress and what resources exist to help combat the negative effects of stress.
The Effects of Stress on the Body and Mind
While people may suffer from different levels of stress and may have different reactions, pretty much everyone is familiar with stress. The Stress in America Study by the American Psychological Association shows that the average American’s overall stress levels remain constant year to year, with the primary stressors identified as work and money.
On a scale of one to ten, Americans indicate a normal stress level should be lower than a four, but the average stress rating is close to a five. The American Institute of Stress reports that a shocking 82 percent of U.S. workers report suffering from work-related stress, resulting in a loss of $300 billion per year in various economic effects such as decreased worker productivity, time missed from work, illness, and medical expenses.
Given these high levels of stress, it is important to understand the impacts stress can have on the body and the mind.
Physical Impacts of Stress
Stress can cause wide ranging physical impacts on a person’s body, including:
- Headaches such as tension headaches;
- Muscle tension and pain;
- Shortness of breath due to tense chest and back muscles;
- High blood pressure due to the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline;
- Increased risk of heart attack due to increased heart rate and blood pressure;
- Digestive problems such as nausea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux due to increased production of stomach acid;
- Fertility problems and missed periods due to fluctuating hormones and stress interference with reproductive systems;
- Weakened immune systems, leaving individuals more prone to infections; and
- High blood sugar and increased risk of type 2 diabetes due to the release of additional glucose into the bloodstream.
Given the wide range of the physical impacts of stress, it may be difficult to determine whether particular symptoms are caused by stress. Reducing stress, however, is sure to have a positive physical impact.
Mental Impacts of Stress
Americans increasingly feel unsupported in handling the stress in their lives and researchers consider us one of the most stressed populations in the world. In 2019, almost 60 percent of American adults indicated they needed more emotional support than they received. This is no surprise given the modern job market, social media, and all of the other sources of pressure adults in the U.S. deal with on a daily basis.
Studies have shown that stress can alter brain circuitry in ways that can have long-term effects on mental health. Stress has been shown to cause or worsen the following:
- Lack of motivation or focus;
- Irritability or anger; and
- Sadness or depression.
Stress can have a significant impact on mental health because stress disrupts healthy coping strategies that would normally help keep an individual’s mood on track. It also creates a dangerous cycle, because without the reprieve of those healthy coping strategies, a person’s stress can continue to build.
The statistics around stress and mental health make it clear this is a problem for many. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74 percent of people have felt so stressed they are overwhelmed or cannot cope, and 51 percent of stressed adults felt depressed while 61 percent felt anxious. The mental impacts of stress also lead to financial impacts, with depression leading to $51 billion in workplace costs due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs.
Given the wide-ranging impacts of stress, it is important to understand how you might manage and mitigate the impacts of stress on your own life.
The impacts of stress on the body and mind are profound, so it is important to develop coping habits for dealing with stress.
The National Institute of Mental Health recommends taking the following steps to cope with stress and mitigate any negative effects:
- Be observant: Be aware of your body’s responses to stress, such as difficulty sleeping or increased irritability. This will help you to more quickly identify and address the stressors in your life.
- Talk to professionals: Be proactive in raising concerns you have about your stress levels with your healthcare provider. They can help you identify what, if any, additional medical support you need to handle your stress.
- Exercise: Exercise is an excellent outlet for reducing stress, boosting your mood, and improving your health.
- Relax: This may sound easier said than done, but it is important to identify which activities you find relaxing and to prioritize including them in your day. Consider exploring meditation or breathing exercises and making them a regular part of your schedule.
- Prioritize: To help reduce a feeling of overwhelming responsibility, prioritize your responsibilities and set attainable goals.
- Connect: Don’t distance yourself from your support network. Keep in touch with friends and family and ask for help when you need it.
In addition to the above, the American Heart Association recommends getting enough sleep. Getting enough shut-eye can help you feel less overwhelmed.
Resources for Managing Stress
While understanding the impacts of stress and some tips for managing stress can be helpful, many individuals who deal with stressful situations or their resulting effects may require more immediate support.
If you find yourself in this scenario, consider one or more of the following options:
- Consider massage therapy or acupuncture.
- Find a therapist in your area who specializes in managing stress.
- If you struggle from substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration help line at 1-800-662-HELP.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: For immediate help in a crisis, contact the toll-free line at 1-800-273-8255 at any time.
If you find yourself dealing with the stress in your life, you don’t need to go it alone. You have options for help—and we hope you avail yourselves of them.