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Causes of Stress

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Effects of Stress on Your Health

When you are in a stressful situation, your body launches a physical response. Your nervous system springs into action, releasing hormones that prepare you to either fight or take off. It's called the "fight or flight" response, and it's why, when you're in a stressful situation, you may notice that your heartbeat speeds up, your breathing gets faster, your muscles tense, and you start to sweat. This kind of stress is short-term and temporary (acute stress), and your body usually recovers quickly from it.

But if your stress system stays activated over a long period of time (chronic stress), it can lead to more serious health problems. The constant rush of stress hormones can put a lot of wear and tear on your body, causing it to age more quickly and making it more prone to illness.

If you've been stressed out for a short period of time, you may start to notice some of these physical signs: 

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability

When stress becomes long-term and is not properly addressed, it can lead to a number of more serious health conditions, including:

  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heartburn, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome
  • Upset stomach -- cramps, constipation, and diarrhea
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Fertility problems
  • Flare-ups of asthma or arthritis
  • Skin problems such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis

Managing your stress can make a real difference to your health. One study showed that women with heart disease lived longer if they underwent a stress management program.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on March 20, 2014
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