Being stressed is not a diagnosable illness so much as a state of being that comes from feeling under pressure.
Stress is not always a bad thing. Stress can be motivating – encouraging you to strive, achieve and do better. In addition, what is a stressful situation to one person can be an exciting or thrilling challenge for another.
However, if left untreated, chronic negative stress can lead to serious mental and physical illness.
So what causes stress?
Common causes of stress include:
- Pressure at work – such as job insecurity, excessive workloads, workplace harassment or bullying.
- Problems with family members – for example ageing parents, marital conflict, or problems with children such as illness or misbehaviour.
- Conflict – may include conflicts at home or at work and disputes with neighbours or authorities.
- Financial pressure – worrying about lack of money to pay bills or the mortgage and so on.
- Study pressure – such as pressure to achieve high grades, exam stress or excessive study loads.
How stress affects the body
Continued negative stress can damage your mental health, contributing to depression, or to anxiety disorders such as phobias or panic attacks.
The brain and body are in constant communication with each other, which means that chronic stress can affect the body in several ways:
- Hormone production – hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol enable the body to respond quickly when in danger. However, ongoing stress and the continued production of these hormones can lead to high blood pressure, fatty deposits in the arteries and around the organs, and higher blood cholesterol. These factors can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Immune system – ongoing stress can increase inflammation and cause damage to the immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.
- Sympathetic nervous system – overactivity of this system can result in faster heart rate and higher blood pressure.
- Brain – continued stress can affect the pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus areas of the brain, in turn impairing cognitive functioning and memory.
- Musculoskeletal system – stress can increase muscle tension, which may lead to tension headaches and other aches and pains.
Stressors cannot always be avoided in life. However, learning to manage them and getting professional treatment for the effects of stress can not only make you happier, but also healthier – both physically and mentally.