The Very Real Effects of Stress

Nearly everyone experiences stress at some time. Although some stress is to be expected in modern life and a little of it can be energizing, excessive stress can be debilitating – and even deadly.

Stress can affect more than just a person’s mood and mental processes. If left untreated, excessive stress can lead to anxiety and illness. It can have a negative impact on each of the body’s major systems and organs, such as elevating blood pressure, and dangerously increasing the rate at which the heart beats to undercutting the immune system, thus lowering the body’s defenses against germs, colds and infectious diseases.

Understanding Stress: A Stress Primer

Stress comes in many guises, and while most people expect and are able to cope with the little things that life throws at them every day, sometimes those little things come so fast and furiously that they build up into an overwhelming wave – and one with which some people are unprepared to cope. To help people better understand what stress is, what it can do, and how to go about managing it, WebPsychology has prepared a primer on stress. Available on its website, the primer has been reviewed by a team of respected doctors, including an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a physician from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. This 22-page primer is “an in-depth report on the courses, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of stress.” 

Stress Respects Neither Youth nor Old Age nor Gender 

The human mind, spirit and body can fall prey to the impact of stress at any age. As the primer notes in appropriate sections, boys and girls, men and women, teens and the elderly can all be overwhelmed by stress. Issues at school, work, or play, let alone in relationships from the sandbox to the bedroom, can all trigger anxieties that release chemicals and hormones meant to help people deal with emergency situations. “This is a good thing in an emergency,”as the primer notes, but “chronic or long term sustained stress keeps these chemicals/hormones flowing and can have a very negative effect.” Those effects include hypertension, anxiety and depression, all of which can lead to other very serious physical problems in the digestive, reproductive, circulatory and immune systems, some of which can lead to death.

Stress and Marriage; Stress and Sex 

Marriage is generally a healthy institution, but there is stress in every relationship. Finances, issues of infidelity (real or imagined), differences of opinion over where to live, what to buy or how to raise children all cause stress. For many in a relationship, married or otherwise, sex can be either a release from stress – or a cause of it. Several subsections of the WebPsychology primer deal with issues of sex, marriage and stress and other relationship issues that can cause or ratchet up the level of stress in daily life.

Stress on the Job

Some people thrive in a high-stress workplace environment – while others become sick and even collapse under such pressure. For those who live in fear of losing their job, who are seeking a job, or who are in a job they hate or which does not offer the financial or emotional security they need, stress can be an enemy they must face each day. In a sub-section entitled “Reducing stress on the job,” the WebPsychology primer offers some advice on how those who are stressed-out at work can find help. Some of that advice, like trying to “learn to focus on positive outcomes” or how to “restructure priorities and eliminate unnecessary tasks” is something a person has to do on his own, but not everyone can do so. Many people, need help, either from their friends and family or from professionals, to deal with workplace stress, most of which they bring home with them after work.

From Restless Sleep to Heart Attacks: Stress Hurts – and Stress Kills 

Stress kills. Many doctors, warn their readers and patients about the debilitating and even deadly impact stress can have on their minds and bodies. From sleep disorders to headaches and fatigue, stress can slow down and even shut down the body and its ability to function. Mood swings and memory loss, learning difficulties and even the ability to have sex or reproduce are all side effects of chronic stress. No organ or bodily system or process is safe from stress, which is all the more reason why those who suffer or who suspect they suffer from stress need to seek help. 

Managing Stress: Help is Out There

There are many books and websites that offer tests to help people figure out the level of stress in their daily lives. Self-help books and helpful websites, including WebPsychology, offer advice on how to manage and deal with excessive stress. Many people can do so through the deep breathing and other physical and mental exercises these books and sites present, but there are times when people need to seek professional help. A family physician is a good person to start with. They can help point a sufferer to a mental health professional or practice that can offer individual or group counseling or therapy, or who can determine if the stress needs to be treated with medicine, or a combination of medicine and counseling. As the doctors on WebPsychology note, “no single method is always successful,” and “what works for one person does not necessarily work for someone else.”