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How Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Affect Your Health

How Does Stress Affect Health?

Controlling stress is important to our health. Unrelenting stress can turn to distress. Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires a physical, mental, or emotional adjustment or response. Stress is a normal part of life. Many events that happen to you and around you -- and many things that you do to yourself -- put stress on your body. Some stress can be good. It keeps us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. But too much stress can make us sick.

Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress -- a negative stress reaction. Distress can disturb the body's internal balance or equilibrium, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction, and problems sleeping. Emotional problems can also result from distress. These problems include depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry. Research shows that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and even suicide.

Stress also becomes harmful when people engage in the compulsive use of substances or behaviors to try to relieve their stress. These substances or behaviors may include food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, and the Internet. Rather than relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances and compulsive behaviors tend to keep the body in a stressed state causing more problems. The distressed person becomes trapped in a vicious circle.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on July 24, 2012

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