Psychological effects of stress

Stress is a response to stimuli from your environment that you perceive as causing change to the status quo. Just a fancy way of saying that stress causes changes in your body that are physical and psychological. Effects of stress are varied and can vary even within the individual from situation to situation. Researchers theorize that humans and apes get more stress-related diseases because they are highly intelligent and have way too much spare time on their hands.

This may or may not be true. What is true is that humans are highly intelligent and often spend too much time ruminating over situations or life experiences they may not have as much spare time on their hands as researchers believe. In this fast paced world of fast food, big jobs, hobbies, activities, children, and responsibilities adults are often faced with non-existent time. In other words they are swamped with things to do and definitely not enough time to do them in.

The stress of relationships with spouses, children, step-children, bosses, co-workers, friends and parents can often precipitate psychological effects of stress. All vertebrate animals, including people, respond to stress by releasing hormones like adrenalin and glucocorticoids that increase heart rate and energy.

In the short term these hormones can be the difference between life and death. When you are faced with a situation which brings about a ‘fight or flight’ response your body responds as if you are under stress. This response gives you the strength to fight or flee from danger. But when your body is under this kind of stress over a persistent period of time it causes both physical and psychological changes in your body.

Some of the psychological effects of stress are a result of the suppression of the immune system that makes you more susceptible to infections and can affect erectile dysfunction and disruption of the menstrual cycle. Chronic stress also impacts brain function such as learning, memory and judgment, which don’t function well under stress.

In baboon studies researchers have found that animals with elevated resting levels of stress hormone have reproductive systems that aren’t effective, wounds that heal slowly, elevated blood pressure and anti-anxiety chemicals in their brain that aren’t working well.

Coping with the psychological effects of stress requires social support from friends and colleagues. Some of the effects of stress that you and your friends may notice are a decreased interest in day to day activities as you focus on the stress situation and solving the problem. Other effects of stress are losing the power to discriminate between what is good and bad for us.

Depression is another psychological effect of stress when the person is unable to make a decision about the situation or is facing a life challenge that doesn’t appear to have an end in sight.

Unfortunately one of the major physical effects of stress is premature death from stress related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and autoimmune diseases.

RESOURCES

HelpGuide: Stress Symptoms, Signs and Causes
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm

Harvard Public Health: How Stress Harms your Physical and psychological Health
http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/how-stress-harms-your-physical-and-psychological-health

MayoClinic: Stress Symptoms
http://www.mayoclinic.org/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

The American Institute of Stress: 50 Common Signs and Symptoms
http://www.stress.org/stress-effects/

World Psychiatry: The Long Term Costs of Traumatic Stress
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2816923/

PsychCentral: The Physical Effects of Long-term stress
http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-physical-effects-of-long-term-stress/000935

American Psychological Association: Impact of Stress
http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/impact.aspx

National Cancer Insitute: Psycholgoical Stress and Cancer
http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/impact.aspx

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