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The Side Effects of Stress: 8 of the Most Common

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on March 18, 2022.

Depression And Anxiety Can Be Caused By Constant Stress

Studies suggest that those who have difficulty in coping with stress are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.

It is important that you seek professional help if you develop any signs of depression or anxiety.

Symptoms of depression may include feelings of hopelessness, disinterest in life and thoughts of suicide. Anxiety comes in many forms and can manifest itself as panic attacks, excessive worry, chronic indigestion, insomnia, self-doubt and compulsive behaviors.

Stress Can Make A Good Night's Sleep a Thing Of The Past

Unresolved stress frequently causes insomnia by making it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or by affecting the quality of your sleep.

Stress puts you in a state of hyperarousal. A constantly active mind makes it difficult to switch off and begin the process of sleep.

Every night, you should prepare your body for sleep. Avoid looking at computer screens, phones, or the TV for at least an hour before bed. Ensure your body is at a nice, comfortable temperature - not too hot nor too cold, particularly your feet.

Concentrate on your breathing. Try breathing in for four counts and breathing out for eight. Alternatively, some yoga followers suggest breathing in and out of your left nostril only - a process called nadi shodhana.

Visualize yourself asleep. Imagine you are a dandelion or a leaf on the wind floating up into the sky to sleep land.

Stress May Dampen Sexual Desire or Performance

Your love life can really suffer when you are stressed. Not only can stress reduce sexual desire in both men and women, it can also cause sexual dysfunction.

This may include erectile dysfunction in men and failure to achieve orgasm in women.

While stress does not normally affect fertility, people who are trying to have a baby have more success conceiving while on vacation than at other times of the year.

Stress Can Lead To Obesity

Food can provide a sense of comfort to some people in times of stress. Unfortunately, it is usually high-sugar, high-fat, and high-salt foods that people turn to.

Consuming too many of these foods can lead to weight gain and eventually obesity. The risk of diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and other conditions associated with obesity increase. Meanwhile, stress continues, and tends to worsen, because now the person also has medical issues to worry about.

Research has shown that the best thing you can do for stress is to be active. Go outside if you feel like snacking, and go for a walk, run or bike ride. Schedule in a game of tennis with a friend instead of sitting around home being tempted by what's in the fridge.

Stress Causes Pain

Many studies have shown that pain and stress are linked. The more stressed you are, the more sensitive to pain you are. And being in pain, increases stress.

Headaches, particularly stress induced migraines are common in people burdened by high levels of stress as are muscular aches and pains, such as backache.

Stress is also thought to aggravate existing conditions such as fibromyalgia.

Stress Makes You More Vulnerable to Infection and Illness

Stress appears to suppress the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections from viruses and bacteria. Studies have shown that people who are under chronic stress are more vulnerable to colds, and stress can trigger a break out of cold sores or the Epstein-Barr virus (infectious mononucleosis).

People with long-term stress may be more at risk of developing an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Flare-ups of asthma, eczema, inflammatory bowel diseases (such as Crohn's disease), psoriasis, and allergies are associated with stress. There is also some evidence to suggest that chronic stress may lead to insulin–dependent diabetes because stress causes the immune system to destroy insulin-producing cells.

Stress Is A Risk Factor For Cardiovascular Disease

There is a link between stress and an increase in blood pressure (hypertension)

Many people with high blood pressure have no obvious symptoms, although some may develop a headache. If high blood pressure is not treated, it can start to weaken the heart and damage the lining of the arteries surrounding the heart, leading to a build-up of fats and cholesterol and an eventual narrowing of the arteries.

This increases your risk of stroke, heart failure and a heart attack. Heart palpitations (when your heart beats too hard or too fast, skips a beat, or flutters) are also commonly associated with stress.

Stress Can Cause Hair Loss

The most common type of hair loss due to stress is telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium is a condition characterised by excessive shedding of hairs in their final stage of growth and is associated with stressful events such as accidents, illness, major dietary changes, pregnancy and childbirth, and excessive weight loss.

There are three stages of hair growth:

  • The anagen, or growing phase. The amount that hair grows a day is a gentically predetermined with an average hair growth of 12-15cm per year. During the anagen phase, the hair root is long, white and tapered.
  • The catagen or transition phase. This is when hair growth stops and the hair root starts to shrink and become more rounded. This phase can last from two days to three weeks.
  • The telogen or resting and new growth phase. This is when the old hair falls out and a new hair starts to grow. For scalp hair, this phase lasts about three to four months, and for eyebrow hair, around nine months.

Another condition associated with stress is called trichotillomania. This is a habitual condition where the person has recurrent, uncontrollable urges to pull out their own hair from their scalp, eyebrows or other areas of their body. This condition often leaves patchy bald spots which the person will often go to great lengths to disguise, and can cause significant distress.

Coping With Stress

There are simple and effective ways to deal with stress.

One of the best things you can do is exercise. Exercise should become a priority in your life and be placed ahead of other tasks that can wait, such as housework. Exercise increases levels of endorphins - your body's own "feel good" hormones, and a good sweat-out helps relieve tension. Try to exercise in beautiful surroundings - go for a run along the beach, a hike in the mountains or the forest, or walk at a good pace through a tree-line park. Exercising daily also improves sleep and helps you to maintain a good body weight.

Avoid alcohol and nicotine. Initially, a glass or two of wine or a puff on a cigarette may seem a great way to unwind and take your mind off things. But soon enough, a glass or two becomes a whole bottle or you finish the whole packet of cigarettes. It is easy to become addicted to alcohol and nicotine, so ultimately these substances will increase your stress levels, not reduce them.

Don't be afraid or embarrassed to seek help if you are finding it hard to cope with stress. Your doctor or a licensed counselor can help you get through a stressful period before it starts to impact on your long-term health.

Finished: The Side Effects of Stress - 8 of the Most Common

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