Stress - particularly, chronic stress - has an impact on your physical and mental well being. When stressed, you may find you get sick more often and have trouble concentrating, and that's because stress can impact all aspects of your body and mind.
Fight or Flight
It doesn't take a lot of stress for your body and mind to get convinced it's time to prepare to fight or run away. Specific hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine) are pumped through the body when encountering stress, regardless of whether the stressor is a person jumping out from behind bushes on a walking path or realizing that a deadline was missed at work. For this reason, cumulative everyday stress can be detrimental to mental and physical health, just as severe stress can.
Bad for the Body
The potential physiological affects of stress cannot be overstated. While everyone reacts to stress differently based on both environmental and genetic factors, stress has the potential to cause some real problems.
People with chronic conditions such as asthma may find their symptoms worsen as their stress levels rise. Those predisposed to seizures may have an increase in incidents when stressed out. This is why physicians routinely suggest people with medical conditions avoid stress as much as possible.
Women may find a change or cessation of their menstrual cycle when encountering increased stress levels, and men may encounter sexual difficulties when stressed. Everyone reacts to stress differently, but some people find their skin reacts to stress by presenting rashes or boils. Increased cholesterol levels can result from stress, as can various eye conditions. There are also some claims excessive stress can cause a person's hair to turn grey.
Changes to the Brain
Stress can have a significant effect on the brain. From difficulty concentrating to serious medical incidents like mini strokes, the impact of stress on the brain can be damaging. In fact, a brain that is chronically stressed might actually "rewire" itself to be in a constant state of "fight or flight;" this is caused by the frequent to near-constant presence of the stress hormone cortisol and explains why some people remain anxious long after the stressful, anxious period of their life has ended.
When you're stressed, you have a harder time keeping your emotions in check. Even mild stress can make it difficult to manage emotional responses, says neurologists, especially when the mild stress is pervasive and not dealt with by the person. Some professionals within the mental health community say stress can lead to depression for some people. While not every stressed person becomes depressed, stress can be the catalyst for depression in some people.
The Cost of Stress
By some estimates, workplace stress costs companies billions of dollars cumulatively as a result of decreased productivity, missed work, and workplace accidents. These issues extend beyond the workplace; shortened life spans and increased health problems can be blamed on chronic stress, says the American Psychological Association. For this reason, stress isn't something that should be ignored, but rather it should be acknowledged and dealt with.
Not all stress is considered bad - in fact, so-called positive stress compels you to work toward a positive outcome, such as the stress related to finishing a big school project or getting a promotion at work. This type of stress builds resilience and a sense of self-reliance as challenges are overcome successfully, but it can also have a negative impact on your brain and body. Stress labeled by psychologists as "eustress" is temporary excitements that increase your heart rate without fear or danger (things along the lines of riding a thrilling amusement park ride or enjoying walking through a haunted house). This good stress has no detrimental affect to your brain or body unless you begin to perceive the experiences as threatening or stressful.
Avoiding the Impact of Stress
In order to avoid the physical and mental effects of stress, it's important to acknowledge stress and take steps to deal with it. Exercise, proper diet, and stress avoidance when possible can help lessen the toll stress takes.