Can stress kill you?

A bit of stress can be beneficial at times…spurring us on to meet a deadline, study for an exam or get a project done. However, extreme or ongoing stress can cause serious health problems.

What is stress exactly?

Anytime you may feel worried, overwhelmed or run-down …. that’s stress!

Stress affects both men and women of different ages and circumstances. With a threat or stress to the body, the hypothalamus in your brain sends a signal to your adrenal glands which release adrenaline and cortisol to increase your heart rate and blood pressure. If it’s a short-term threat, everything goes back to normal quite quickly. However, with long-term stress, your body gets over-exposed to stress hormones, and this is what makes you sick.

Can chronic untreated stress really affect your health?

Stress can have a wide-ranging effect on your body by causing, or aggravating, many different conditions including:

  • anxiety (hyperventilation, feeling anxious most of the time, panic attacks)
  • depression
  • tension type headaches (often resulting in a tight band-like feeling across the temples)
  • muscle spasm (stress causes muscles to tense up, especially in the head, neck and shoulder area)
  • weight gain or obesity (sometimes in association with “comfort eating”, it can increase the risk of diabetes)
  • digestive problems (nausea, diarrhoea, cramps, constipation)
  • heartburn (often aggravated by eating more and gaining weight, smoking more and consuming more alcohol to try to relax)
  • stomach ulcers
  • heart problems (an increased heart rate and high levels of stress hormones can cause high blood pressure, putting one at risk of a heart attack or stroke)
  • sleep disturbances
  • poor concentration and memory
  • decreased libido and erectile dysfunction
  • stress can have a negative effect on one’s fertility
  • a negative impact on one’s immune system
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Take action!

No matter how heavy the stress, there are some steps you can take to minimise its effect on your health:

  • try to identify what is causing your stress
  • focus on getting regular exercise as this increases your body’s production of endorphins, the “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain
  • try relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and massage)
  • follow a healthy, balanced diet
  • decrease your caffeine intake
  • reach out to friends and family for support
  • ensure you get enough sleep (aim for 7-8 hours, get into a routine and remove distractions such as the TV and computer from the bedroom)
  • try to manage your time better (get up a bit earlier, make a list and work according to priority, ask for help)
  • practise walking away and counting to 10 when you feel angry
  • make time for hobbies or volunteer work
  • seek professional help from your doctor or a psychologist, if you are struggling to cope