The Effects of Stress on Your Physical and Mental Health

The Effects of Stress on Your Physical and Mental Health

Long- and Short-Term Effects of Stress on the Body

Stress is something that most people go through at one point or another, and a little bit of stress can actually help you to get things done when you need to.

However, when you’re stressed more or more often than usual then you may find that it starts to affect your life and your health.

We’re going to take a look at what stress is and that it means for your mental and physical health.

What is Stress?

Stress is something that happens when you’re feeling under a lot of pressure.

It can happen when you’ve got an important deadline at work, you’re about to take an exam at school, or for any number of other reasons that make you feel like the pressure is getting a bit much.

It’s easy to write stress off as just a feeling, but the reality is that stress can affect your physical and mental health in big ways when it gets to be too much to handle.

It can cause physical and psychological symptoms that aren’t just unpleasant but can make you feel even more stressed than you were in the first place, and isn’t that just great news for us all?

Why does stress affect your body?

Stress happens when your body is affected by something called your “fight or flight” response.

This mechanism used to be super useful for humans thousands of years ago, as it was the part of our system that made us fight or run away when we were facing danger.

The fight or flight response was a real benefit to early humans whose biggest fear was being eaten by the local prowling predator, but In the modern world, where your biggest threat is your angry boss breathing down your neck, it isn’t always the most useful tool. I mean, you usually shouldn't fight or flee from your manager!

When your fight or flight response is triggered your body releases a hormone called cortisone, which is designed to help your body to deal with stress until the threat has passed.

However, if you’re feeling stressed a lot of the time you may have more cortisol in your system than you really need, causing those unpleasant physical and mental symptoms of stress.

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What are the physical effects of stress?

Although stress is a mental health condition it can have serious effects on your physical health, as well as your psychological health.

Many people don’t realise that stress could be the underlying reason that they just haven’t been feeling themselves for a while, so if you’re feeling stressed out you might want to consider some of the physical symptoms that could be coming along with it.

Unfortunately, many of these symptoms have a nasty habit of making you feel even more stressed than you already were, so it’s a good idea to take note of when they happen to you and your stress levels at the time.

Stress and nausea or stomach problems

Stress can play havoc with your digestive system, leading to a whole host of stomach problems that nobody wants to deal with when they’re already stressed.

Some of the most common digestive symptoms you may experience when you’re stressed include:

  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea

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Stress and tiredness

Stress can make you feel tired and wiped out, usually because it can make it more difficult for you to get to sleep.

If you’re lying awake at night worrying about whatever it is that’s stressing you out, then, of course, you’re going to feel pretty worn out the next morning!

On the other end of the spectrum, this can also mean that you end up sleeping too much, so it may feel like you just can’t win either way!

Stress and chest pain

Stress can cause chest pain, palpitations (which is where you can feel your heartbeat), and your heartbeat speeding up.

These symptoms are usually temporary, but they can be very worrying when they happen to you, adding on yet another layer of stress.

This symptom is why many people use breathing exercises when they’re feeling stressed or anxious, as they can help to regulate your heartbeat so you can feel a bit calmer.

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Stress and your sex life

Yes, stress can affect your sex life, and I can tell that that’s the news all of you have just been dying to hear!

When you’re stressed it can make it more difficult for you to perform sexually, which can lead to erectile dysfunction in men or vaginal dryness in women.

Naturally, being unable to enjoy some intimate time with your partner can bring added stress as you may worry about its effect your relationship, which is just what you need when you’re already feeling stressed to the max.

Stress headaches

Stress headaches are just every day, average headaches that just so happen to be triggered when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.

This type of headache is also known as a tension headache, and when you have one, you’ll usually feel a constant ache on both sides of your head.

This can be accompanied by tension in your neck and shoulders and a feeling of pressure behind your eyes.

This type of headache will usually go away by itself within a few hours, and usually aren’t anything to worry about, even if they are really irritating!

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The psychological effects of stress

Now we’ve taken a look at the physical symptoms of stress, it’s time to look at the psychological effect it can have on you.

These types of symptoms are best broken down into two types of symptoms, behavioural symptoms and mental symptoms.

Behavioural symptoms

Most people aren’t at their best when they’re feeling seriously stressed, and unfortunately, that can have an effect on how you’re acting.

It isn’t fun, and it probably won’t make you feel any better, but it happens to the best of us, so maybe give your loved ones a heads up when you’re in the stress zone.

Some of the most common behavioural symptoms people notice when they’re stressed include:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Snapping at people
  • Eating too much
  • Loss of appetite
  • Avoiding places or people that make you feel stressed
  • Drinking or smoking more often than usual
  • Worrying
  • Biting your nails
  • Being tearful or crying more than usual

Mental symptoms

The other psychological side of stress is mental symptoms, which can happen when all the things that are stressing you out start swirling around your brain like a tornado.

Some of the most common mental symptoms you may experience when you’re stressed out include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling anxious or nervous
  • Feeling depressed
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty enjoying yourself or feeling disinterested in activities you usually enjoy
  • Loneliness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling like you’ve lost your sense of humour
  • Feeling like you can’t switch off

When should I see a doctor?

You should go to see a doctor if you’re worried about your mental health, or if you’re struggling to cope with stress.

If you feel like the measures you’re taking to reduce stress on your own aren’t working well, then your GP may have some ideas that could help to make a difference.

As well as this, they should be able to refer you to the NHS’s free psychological therapy services in your area.

If you’re concerned that someone you know is suffering from stress and needs immediate help or is in danger of harming themselves then you should call 999 or take them to A&E right away.

This is also the case if you’re concerned for your own wellbeing or have seriously harmed yourself.

Never ignore a mental health emergency, they can be just as serious as a medical emergency and should be treated with the same level of urgency.

Now we’ve looked at all of the short-term and long-term effects stress can have on your body, so you’ll know what to look for the next time you’re worried about your stress levels.

Remember, if you’re worried about stress it’s always a good idea to talk to someone, so don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or have a chat with someone you love. It’ll be worth it, we promise!


Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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