In the previous part of “Stress – An Overview”, I looked at different types of stress and identified chronic stress as the type of stress that gives cause for concern. Part 2 looks at the effects of chronic stress – both physically and mentally.
Physical effects of chronic stress
When someone gets stressed, the brain starts to engage the fight or flight mechanisms within their body. With chronic stress, the brain is on high alert for something to happen at every moment. It starts to prepare the body to either run from something dangerous, or to fight it. It floods the body with adrenaline and cortisol, and the body responds to the change in chemicals.
- The heart speeds up in order to send more oxygen to the muscles which may be needed. The blood vessels constrict, so that more oxygen is sent to the muscles. This increases the blood pressure. With chronic stress, the increased blood pressure can lead to other physical complications and difficulties with the circulatory system.
- The breathing rate increases in order to get more oxygen into the body. The muscles tense up in order to protect the body from attack. With chronic stress, this can lead to tiredness, muscle spasms and headaches.
- The bodies resources are diverted from the digestive system, as food digestion is not a priority in times of fight or flight. Sufferers may experience, constipation, IBS, acid reflux, and other digestive problems.
- Resources are also diverted from the sexual organs, which can lead to a loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, vaginismus and reduced fertility.
- The body’s immune system may not function as well as it should, leading to an increase in the number of infectious diseases.
- The skin may develop eczema.
- A range of other physical changes and conditions may occur such as an irregular menstrual cycle, migraines, sleeping difficulties, and high blood sugar.
People suffering from chronic stress often have one or more of these physical conditions.
Mental effects of chronic stress,
Long term chronic stress can lead to further mental health problems. In a brain that is experiencing chronic stress, the primitive part of the brain becomes more active, and encourages the thinking part of the brain to feel bad as well as creating overwhelming compulsions. For example:
- Panic attacks
- Loss of motivation
- OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
- Loss of self-esteem
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge eating
Most people undergoing chronic stress will just develop increasing periods of anxiety. Some may develop other symptoms too.
Effects of stress on the body
Different types of stress.
Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash