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What Are The Negative Health Effects Of Stress?

Last updated Sept. 23, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Work, money, and the economy are usually the major causes of stress. Prolonged periods of excess stress can affect one's physical, mental, and emotional health. However, short-term daily stress that is manageable can be healthy and keep you alert and focused.

Stress is an integral part of human life that cannot be wished away. It can arise from multiple factors. Some of the common causes are work and school related stress, stresses at home, from personal relations and interpersonal conflicts, financial worries, health concerns and illnesses, lifestyle, and even from living and working conditions. According to the American Psychological Association's (APA’s) recent survey (2011) on stress in America, it was found that work, money, and the economy were the major causes of stress. Excess stress over prolonged periods that is left untreated can affect one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. However, short-term daily stress that is manageable can be healthy and keep one alert and focused, or even warn us of danger, known as good stress. 

Stresses in the body bring about hormonal changes, which affect all body systems. Acute or short-term stress can rapidly affect the cardiovascular system, nervous system, sense organs, and the immune system and prepare them for a fight-or-flight response. However, if a person is repeatedly subjected to stressful situations and chronic stress develops, then it can be detrimental, causing stress symptoms that can result in both physical and mental health concerns. Individuals with heart conditions or other pre-existing health conditions may be severely affected by both short-term and long-term stress.

The negative health effects of bad stress may include:

  • Hypertension or high blood pressure, especially observed in men
  • Atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque deposits form on arterial walls, choking the arteries
  • Increased risk of heart attacks and strokes due to hypertension and atherosclerosis
  • Individuals affected by abnormal heart rhythms are higher prone to severe arrhythmias
  • Neurological and behavioral changes, which include anger, irritability, anxiety, and depression, that may lead to substance abuse
  • Weight gain and obesity due to an increased appetite, leading to increased food intake and decreased physical activities and sleep. Individuals are also at a higher risk for eating disorders
  • Weakening of the immune system due to reduced white blood cells, making an individual vulnerable to infections such as the flu or common cold
  • Stress-related gastrointestinal disorders, causing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, with symptoms that include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, constipation, burning sensation, etc.
  • Increased severity of diabetes
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Sexual function: In men - decreased sexual drive, erectile dysfunction, and reduced sperm count. In women - decreased sexual drive, severe pain during PMS, changes in the menstrual cycle, and mood changes
  • Lack of concentration, learning difficulties, impaired memory, and depression

Despite the above, there are simple, effective, and healthy measures available that may be used and practiced to help prevent too much adverse impact of stress on our daily life. It is essential to engage in regular activities for overall stress management and stress relief. These include regular exercise, deep breathing, practice relaxation techniques (like yoga, meditation, or music therapy), talking to friends and family members, and trying to identify and being aware of how stress affects your health. 


http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/stress (accessed on 01/12/2015)

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/March/understanding-the-stress-response (accessed on 01/12/2015)

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml (accessed on 01/12/2015)

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm (accessed on 01/12/2015)

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/basics/relaxation-techniques/hlv-20049495 (accessed on 01/12/2015)

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Lupien, S. J., McEwen, B. S., Gunnar, M. R., & Heim, C. (2009). Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 434-445.

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of psychosomatic research, 57(1), 35-43.

McEwen, B. S. (2008). Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: Understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. European journal of pharmacology, 583(2), 174-185.

Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Biegel, G. M. (2007). Teaching self-care to caregivers: effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1(2), 105.

Thoits, P. A. (2010). Stress and health major findings and policy implications. Journal of health and social behavior, 51(1 suppl), S41-S53.

McEwen, B. S. (2006). Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators: central role of the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 367.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 23, 2016
Last updated: Sept. 23, 2016