As I mentioned in previous posts, stress, in small doses, is good for you. It makes you more alert and gives you a burst of energy. Remember that the fight-or-flight response and the related stress hormones affect many different parts of our bodies, from our muscles and tissues to our blood vessels and organs. The response temporarily speeds up many of the body’s internal processes. But the truth is that too much of this good thing will wreak havoc with your mind and body. That’s because when you experience ongoing stress, your body doesn’t have a chance to recuperate from the energy bursts.
What’s the result? Just like any other piece of machinery, when your body’s organ systems are overused they begin to weaken and wear out, making you vulnerable to all sorts of medical and emotional problems. In fact, research shows that chronic stress can shorten life expectancy by 15 to 20 years. I don’t mean to scare you, but stress can kill.
So, if you experience stress, then in one way or another it’s taking a toll on you. Are you medically healthy? Stress weakens your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and other kinds of ailments. Are you satisfied in your relationships with others? Nearly one in five people say that stress negatively impacts their marriage or friendships. How are things at school or work? About 15% of people say that their academic or job performance is affected by stress.
One study found that on-the-job stress in the United States is responsible for absenteeism, lost productivity, accidents, and medical insurance costs totaling between $200 and $300 billion each year. These are sobering statistics.
How is stress affecting you? Keep in mind that both immediate (short-term) and more permanent (long-term) effects. Fortunately, when you promptly recognize that you’re under stress and take steps to reduce it, you can reverse the short-term effects. And remember that a burst of stress courtesy of the fight-or-flight response is not going to kill you outright. But if stress lingers on for months or years, the long-term effects may be irreversible.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Stress?
In addition to the immediate effects created by the sympathetic nervous system discussed previously, there is a wide array of signs (what a doctor notices during an examination) and symptoms (what you experience) of stress that range from mild and harmless feelings of tiredness or lethargy to life-threatening problems such as a heart attack or stroke. As you’d expect, the more serious problems occur when you experience lengthy periods of intense stress. These signs and symptoms belong to four categories: physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral.
The chart below lists many of the signs and symptoms of stress.
As you can see, these effects range from relatively minor to all-out life threatening.
Common Signs and Symptoms
|Chest tightness||Forgetfulness||Anxiety||Fidgeting/nail biting|
|Tiredness/fatigue||Chronic worry||Depression||Trouble sleeping|
|Heart palpitations||Thoughts of death||Irritability||Loss of motivation & decreased activity|
|Difficulty breathing||Indecisiveness||Guilt feelings||Irritability|
|Constipation Diarrhea||Feeling helpless/hopeless||Overwhelmed||Smoking|
|Heartburn/Indigestion||Castastrophizing (blowing things out of proportion)||Increased drug/alcohol use|
|Loss of sex drive||Crying|
|Loss of appetite||Increased caffeine use|
|Cardiovascular disease||Interpersonal conflict|
|Jaw pain Bruxism: (grinding your teeth)|
|Tremors and shakiness|
|Muscle & joint pain|
|Irritable bowel syndrome|
|Rashes, hives, & other skin conditions|