INSIDE: This article provides a simple explanation of the consequences of stress on the mind, body, and spirit so that you can use that awareness to better manage and prevent stress in your life.
Stress is a sneaky monster.
It lurks in the background, dulling our happiness, making us feel overwhelmed, reducing our productivity, meddling in our relationships, and causing us pain and health issues.
It does all of this while denying it’s the cause.
And we often believe it.
If you’ve been around the block enough, you’ve learned to look for certain signs of stress in your life, but even if that’s true, you probably still miss many of the symptoms.
Because that’s how sneaky the stress monster is.
We could all use a simple, concise stress manual to help us understand how, why, and where the stress monster rears its nasty head. That way, we can more easily understand the consequences of stress on us so we can catch it in the early stages.
And that’s precisely why I created this article.
Read on to discover the following:
- The signs of stress
- The consequences of stress on the different parts of our body
- Sources of stress
- Tell-tale physical signs
- The differences between men and women when it comes to stress
The Consequences of Stress in General
We all experience stress on a daily basis, and unfortunately, it can have a negative and long-lasting impact on our health. Stress is considered a silent killer because it causes numerous chronic conditions, all while hiding itself amidst symptoms that are seemingly unrelated.
Too many Americans are relying on medication to mask the pain from their stress-related symptoms. A recent federal study confirmed that prescription painkillers are now more widely used than tobacco. What’s worse, pain medication does not help the root cause of the pain (stress), so it’s being abused on a consistent basis instead of being used on a temporary basis as they are intended.
The Holistic Consequences of Stress
Stress has physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral implications that are important to understand.
Physical Signs of Stress
The physical signs of stress are almost never-ending, and it would be impossible to list them all here because stress manifests differently for everyone. Some of the most prevalent symptoms, however, include:
- Having trouble sleeping
- An appetite or weight change
- Skin changes
- Digestive issues
- Headaches and migraines
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Sexual dysfunction
The more in touch you are with your body, the better you will be able to manage your stress because our bodies are always talking to us. Instead of just popping a painkiller when you have one of these symptoms, do a check-in with yourself to determine the stress that could be causing it.
Mental Signs of Stress
When we are under a lot of stress, we will likely start to see mental signs, such as:
- Sudden poor judgment and bad decisions
- Racing thoughts
- Constant worrying and anxiety
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Poor memory
- Sudden disorganization where it wasn’t a problem previously
Emotional Signs of Stress
Our emotional state is closely related to our current level of stress, and it’s often one of the first things we notice when we are too stressed. Emotional signs of stress can include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling like you don’t have control over your life
- Extremely low self-esteem
- Feeling easily agitated by others or situations
Sometimes, these signs of stress can feel like they are part of our personality or they can make us feel like something is wrong with us. Because of that, it’s important to remind yourself often that these symptoms can be signs of too much stress, so that you can make the appropriate adjustments.
Behavioral Signs of Stress
Stress often leads us to experience behavioral changes as well. These symptoms are a little easier to pin as signs of stress. For example, we may notice the following:
- Suddenly using substances to cover up negative emotions or an overwhelming mental state (smoking cigarettes, drinking more heavily, or experimenting with drugs)
- Lashing out at others
- Feeling angry and being unable to control your anger
- Fidgeting or biting your nails
The Consequences of Stress on the Different Parts of the Body
When we undergo stress and anxiety on a regular basis, it’s important to realize that it can wreak havoc on our health and well-being. That’s why it’s important to act as soon as possible when you recognize the signs of stress.
The Effects of Stress on the Brain
When we are under stress, the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that handles memory, can’t function optimally, making it difficult for us to turn short-term memory into long-term memory.
If you’ve been noticing that you forget things a lot lately, it could very well be because you are experiencing too much stress. Concentration is often affected as a result of the hippocampus being “stressed” as well.
The Effects of Stress on the Gastrointestinal Tract
Stress triggers the body’s fight or flight response, which releases the hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, from the adrenal glands.
Any time a hormone is released, there will be multiple effects on the body. In this case, it pulls blood flow away from the gastrointestinal tract and toward the muscles that would need to be used to “fight or flee” from a real or imagined opponent.
Because the gastrointestinal tract is no longer getting the blood it needs, we experience things like indigestion, a reduced ability to digest our foods, constipation, diarrhea, nausea or sharp stomach pains.
The Effects of Stress on the Cardiovascular System
With the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine as a result of stress, the body’s blood pressure and heart rate are increased. In this case, the heart is being “stressed,” and when that happens on a chronic basis, it increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.
The Effects of Stress on the Immune System
Chronic stress also causes the release of the hormone, cortisol, which has many effects on the body, one being the suppression of the immune system. That means that when we are dealing with too much stress, we are at a greater risk of getting colds, the flu, and infections, as well as having more difficulty healing from cuts, sores, or wounds.
Tell-Tale Signs That Stress is Hindering Your Health
If you’ve let stress go for too long in your life, you’ll start to notice physical symptoms popping up. This is often when we don’t make a connection between the symptom and stress because it can feel unrelated; therefore, it is essential that you learn to question every symptom against what we know about stress.
Consistent Unexplained Aches & Pains
While a little pain here and there is likely unrelated, aches and pains that occur over and over again can often be a result of stress.
Frequent Colds & Infections
The immune system takes a beating when stress hangs around too long, and lots of colds and infections can be the result. This is because cortisol suppresses the immune system and leaves the body open to infection.
Poor Sleep Patterns
Cortisol recruits the neurochemicals, adrenalin and noradrenalin, which enhance awareness and energy levels. That’s why insomnia is one of the first signs of an over-stressed body.
High Blood Pressure
When cortisol and stress levels are increased, it causes many symptoms in the body, some of which include water retention (which increases blood volume), increased heart rate, and blood vessel restriction, all of which are factors that increase blood pressure.
Reduced Sex Drive
When cortisol levels are high, testosterone levels are suppressed. This causes a reduction in sex drive because healthy testosterone levels are required in both men and women to modulate sex drive.
Frequent Outbursts or Mood Swings
Stress overload has major effects on the brain and our reactions, which can lead to lashing out at anyone or anything that irritates you.
Depression or Feelings of Inadequacy
When we are stressed, our emotions take a major hit, leading to depression, irritability, picking fights, feeling pressured, and feelings of disappointment, which can all lead to issues with loved ones as a result.
Stress can often cause headaches and migraines, spots in your vision, or focus or memory issues. These are all related to cognitive function, and stress is often a culprit.
When we are under a lot of stress, we might notice our throats feel like they are closing up or like we can’t catch our breath. People with asthma might notice an increase in asthma attacks as well.
Sources of Stress
There are many different types of stress, with each one stemming from a different source.
Acute & Chronic Stress
All other types of stress fit into one of these two categories. Acute stress relates to certain situations, such as our car breaking down or a fight with a spouse. Chronic stress is experienced on a regular basis and is a result of issues that keep coming up. Chronic stress could also be the result of feeling overwhelmed or like you don’t have control of your life in general.
Personal & Relationship Stress
Relationships, whether it be with a partner, children, family members, friends, or coworkers, are often a source of stress. This type of stress can be acute or chronic. When you experience chronic relationship stress, you might constantly be fighting with your spouse, while an acute form of this stress could be related to going through a divorce or feeling unfulfilled in your personal life.
Work & Financial Stress
Work and finances is another big category of stress. You might experience work stress if your job requires too much of your time, you don’t like your job, or you don’t get along well with co-workers. Financial stress could be due to struggling to pay your bills, not advancing enough in your career or the acute stress of incurring a last-minute expense without the means to easily pay for it.
These days, we all experience time stress because we feel like we don’t have enough time each day to accomplish everything we need to get done. This can also be chronic or acute. You could be experiencing the stress of being so busy that there is rarely enough time to get things done on a daily basis. You might also have time stress that is related to work or finances.
How Men & Women Differ When It Comes To Mental Health and Stress
Unfortunately, if you’re a woman, you are at a disadvantage when it comes to mental health. Here are some statistics to back that statement up:
According to Statistics Brain, 86% of working mothers say they “sometimes/frequently” feel stressed, and 40% of working mothers say they “always feel rushed.”
According to the American Psychological Association:
- 49% of women surveyed said their stress has increased over the past five years and 49% reported lying awake at night in the past month due to stress.
- Only 33% of women report that they get enough sleep.
- 35% of women reported exercising only once a week or less, citing fatigue as the main reason.
- Women reported the lack of willpower as the number one obstacle to changing their lifestyle habits, and fatigue was again the culprit for the lack of willpower.
- Six times more women than men cited that having more help with household chores would improve their willpower.
One study found a higher correlation between stress and mental illness than physical wellness, citing, “The relationship of stress with psychiatric illness is strongest in neuroses, which is followed by depression and schizophrenia.” About 12 million American women are diagnosed with clinical depression each year, which is twice the number of men.
While numerous factors contribute to women being more likely than men to develop mental health issues, it is important to note that men also develop mental health issues, but in a different way. While women’s issues tend to manifest as depression and anxiety, men tend to experience substance abuse issues. Since substance abuse results in changes in brain chemistry that lead to addiction or tolerance, it is considered a mental health issue.
Why Women Endure More Mental Health Struggles Throughout Life
Women Typically Have More Responsibilities Than Men
Although it certainly isn’t always the case, for the most part, women have more responsibilities than men in total. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Labor Department, 70% of mothers who have children under the age of 18 work outside of the home, with over 75% being employed full-time. Since women tend to take on the responsibilities of the household and the kids, that doubles her responsibilities.
According to a March 2017 U.S. Labor Department report, women ages 15 to 54 spent more time than men caring for household members (most of which involved providing childcare). The women ages 25 and older spent more time than men doing household activities (cleaning, preparing meals, doing laundry), while men spent more time doing paid work. For all ages, men spent more time doing leisure and sports activities than women.
Hormones Are Different For Women
While estrogen, in general, is one of the causes, the variable levels of hormones that occur throughout the month in a woman’s cycle are the bigger culprit.
During the beginning of active bleeding, both estrogen and progesterone levels are low which causes altered mental states. Hormone levels start to get back to normal as the cycle progresses, and the mental state gets back to normal as well. This process helps explain why women who have menstrual imbalances have a greater risk of experiencing mental health conditions.
Women Invest More Into Their Emotions
Women place a premium on their emotions and require stability and familiarity for their wellbeing. This is why women often experience negative outcomes following a breakup or loss of someone dear. This is also why women are less likely to be unfaithful in a relationship, as a large portion of their derived mental well-being relies on being loved. Problems that develop from a failing relationship are more likely to manifest as depression.
Women’s Brains Are Wired Differently
Recent findings show that women have more neurons running in a left to right direction in the brain, while men’s run in a back and front direction. This explains why women are able to link up emotional and logical thought processes, which can cloud their judgment. On the other hand, men tend to be very realistic.
Now that you have an awareness of the consequences of stress, you can use this information to tune into your body, evaluate if stress if causing a negative impact and make lifestyle changes that provide better stress management and prevention.
A good next step would be to create a self care plan for yourself to minimize and prevent stress.