Stress in a Nutshell

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The dangerous effects of stress on our bodies

Written by Sadie Wirthlin 

We have all heard that stress can have a negative effect on our bodies, but do we know the extent of what that effect can be? Stress can often cause sleep deprivation, headache, anxiety and depression, but recent studies show that stressed individuals may be at risk for more serious health problems.

According to a survey done in the US last year, stress levels are at a high and unhealthy level. Americans today have an average stress level of 4.9 out of 10, with 3.7 being a healthy stress level. The average stress level has decreased since 2007, which is a positive step, but financial issues, work and relationships still seem to be causing high amounts of stress in people’s lives.

Not all stress is bad. Occasionally, we encounter positive stress, which can push us to perform better. However, sometimes we face a problem or are in a situation where our positive stress turns negative because we begin to overreact.

Stevan Hobfoll, chair at Rush University Medical Center, said that “stress is caused by the loss or threat of loss of the personal, social and material resources that are primary to us.”

So how is negative stress affecting our bodies? Stress may not be the sole cause of a health problem, but Hobfoll says that stress “interacts with our genetics and our state of our bodies in ways that accelerate disease.” Below are just a couple of major stress-related health issues that some people may encounter.

Heart attack

From a study done in 2015, working long hours has been linked to risky alcohol use by individuals who believe that alcohol eases the work-related stress. Others may find outlets through smoking or “comfort eating.” These actions can lead to obesity and can increase blood pressure, which damages artery walls. Work stress has also been shown to increase the risk of heart attack by 23%.


Stress causes our bodies to produce more of a hormone called cortisol, which, as a result, increases the amount of glucose in the blood. With more sugar in the blood, the risk of developing diabetes increases. To someone who already has diabetes, stress can interfere with glucose levels, and independently managing diabetes may become more difficult.

With stress increasing the risk of developing these and other health issues, it is important that we manage stress in a way that we can avoid these risks. Health experts say that we should seek support from family members, friends and religious organizations. It may also be beneficial to speak with a mental health doctor. Exercise can also be an effective method for relieving stress. Find activities that bring joy and pleasure; do daily relaxation routines, like yoga, and give the brain positive self-talk.   So, next time you feel the stress building up, just take a deep breath, count to ten and do your best.


Source: Stress: its surprising implications for health. Honor Whiteman. January 2016.

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