Stress is your body’s natural response to perceived or actual threats. Whilst it is true that some stress is good for you and gives you the drive to take action, such as applying for jobs, too much stress can suppress your immune system and can cause you to be ill more frequently. In a recent study, 60-80% of GP visits may have been stress-related and it is well documented that prolonged periods of stress can increase your risk of developing a number of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
Stress can cause a number of illnesses and physical symptoms and these can present themselves almost as soon as your stress levels increase. Once your stress levels start to lessen, then it is likely you will notice a change in these symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
- Increased blood pressure
Exposure to highly-emotional events and chronic stress can cause a psychogenic fever. This means that the fever is caused by psychological factors rather than a virus or inflammatory cause. In some people, dealing with chronic stress can cause persistent low fever, ranging between 37 – 38ºC. Other people may experience a rise in body temperature which can often reach as high as 41ºC when exposed to stressful or emotional events. Psychogenic fevers can happen to anyone who is dealing with intense stress, but they most frequently affect younger women.
Evidence has shown that stress can stop your gastrointestinal system from working to its full capacity and can affect your stomach and large bowel. Stress can cause a whole host of gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, abdominal pain and indigestion, but studies also suggest that stress can aggravate IBS symptoms, with many suggesting that stress may be one of the leading causes of IBS.
If you suffer from acid reflux and/or heartburn, then stress can also worsen your symptoms by making you more sensitive to stomach acid. If it isn’t well controlled, then the inflammation caused by stomach acid erosion can increase your risk of developing peptic ulcers. It is important to look after your gut health, due to the direct link between your stomach and brain. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, drink plenty of water and take digestive health supplements.
Research has found links between stress and depression, as stress affects the levels of chemicals in your brain, including dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Stress also increases your levels of cortisol. All of these fluctuations are linked to depression and when these chemical imbalances happen, they can negatively affect your sleep pattern, appetite, sex drive and mood.
Migraines and Headaches
Stress is a very common trigger for headaches and migraines. A recent study found that after a period of stress, relaxation can then lead to acute migraines within 24 hours, which is down to something called the “let-down” effect. This is actually a stress disorder and happens in the immediate aftermath of dealing with stressful events.
When you finally have time to relax and unwind, you may find that your headaches are even worse. This is down to the way your body reacts to stress, as your body fights to defend and protect itself. Once this is over, your immune system reverts back to its pre-stress mode and is less capable of fighting off illnesses.
The Common Cold
A study has found that chronic stress prevents your body from properly regulating itself and this inflammation has been linked to the progression and development of many illnesses and diseases. Those people who are exposed to long periods of stress are much more likely to develop colds after being exposed to germs due to a weakened immune system.
Stress can cause your body to ache all over, as it causes your muscles to tense up and in turn, this causes or worsens back, shoulder and neck pain. Research has shown that stress also increases your body’s sensitivity to pain and people who suffer from conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia often note an increase in their pain during times of increased stress.
Managing Your Stress Levels
Learning how to deal and manage your stress is important when it comes to easing your symptoms and lowering your risk of becoming ill. Some things which are proven to help lower stress levels include yoga and meditation, deep breathing exercises, regular exercises, getting enough sleep and even cuddling a pet.