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Family Health | Wellness
Man with blood pressure cuff

7 Ways Stress Strikes Your Body

What’s your body telling you?

Stress is part of life. Sometimes it’s the motivation you need for hitting a deadline or performing your best. But unmanaged or prolonged stress can wreak havoc on your body, resulting in aches, pains and other symptoms.

“Stress doesn’t necessarily cause certain conditions, but it can make the symptoms of those conditions worse,” says Richard Lang, MD, MPH, Chairman of Preventive Medicine and Vice Chairman of the Wellness Institute. “When physical symptoms worsen, they may in turn increase a person’s level of stress, which results in a vicious circle.”

Stress rears its head in many places in your body:

  • Muscles and joints

    1. Muscles and joints

    Stress can cause pain, tightness or soreness in your muscles, as well as spasms of pain. It can lead to flare-ups of symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia and other conditions. That’s because stress lowers your threshold for pain.

  • Heart and lungs

    2. Heart and lungs

    Too much of the stress hormone cortisol may make heart and lung conditions worse. These include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and asthma. If you have pain or tightness in your chest or heart palpitations, see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out a serious condition.

  • Skin and hair

    3. Skin and hair

    If you have a skin condition such as eczema, rosacea or psoriasis, stress can make it worse. It also can lead to hives and itchiness, excessive sweating and even hair loss.

  • gut

    4. Gut

    Stress really shows in your digestive system — from simpler symptoms such as pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation to more complex conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux (GERD).

  • Shoulders, head and jaw

    5. Shoulders, head and jaw

    Doctors call this the “tension triangle.” Stress can trigger tension headaches, tightness in the neck and jaw, and knots and spasms in your neck and shoulders. It also may contribute to TMJ, a jaw disorder.

  • Immune system

    6. Immune system

    You need a strong immune system to fight disease, but stress weakens your body’s defenses. It makes you more likely to catch colds or the flu, for example. It also may make autoimmune conditions such as lupus and inflammatory bowel disease worse.

  • Mental health

    7. Mental health

    Stress can bring on symptoms of depression and reduce your enthusiasm for activities you usually enjoy — from everyday hobbies to sex. People also tend to eat poorly and exercise less when stressed, which only makes symptoms stronger.

Feeling down in the dumps because of stress is not a personal failing. It happens to most of us, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help. “We can treat the symptoms,” Dr. Lang says, “but the real key is to find and treat the cause of the problem.”

Tags: family health, stress, stress management, wellness
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  • Alex Christianson

    I can’t believe you addressed all of these areas exacerbated by stress, and completely failed to address the very real disease of Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), as it is often referred to. Simply because the medical cannot conclusively identify the cause of a disease does not mean the disease does not exist. Those in the medical community devoted to research of this disease were often previously involved in HIV/AIDS research, and obviously acknowledge it as a viable disease, as well as a severe disabling illness with symptomology that is often first encountered during a period of intense and chronic stress. In the most recent issue of Discover Magazine, there was an insightful article based on reseaerch that suggested that CFIDS, CFS, or ME, as it is referred to in Europe, could quite possibly be an autoimmune disorder. The flippant remark about stress not causing disease, along with no mention at all of the disease only perpetuates the skepticism that individuals suffering from the numerous complications of this disease are forced to endure on a daily basis from the naive public. While informed physicians describe the syptoms being experienced by CFS patients as more severe than those of their HIV+ and AIDS patients in response to a Wall Street Journal interview, your failure to address it in relation to stress is negligible. The attention given to stress related medical issues was a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of this terribly misunderstood condition. Instead, you have stoked the fires of ignorance regarding a very serious and debilitating disease, which most research indicates, if treated early, can go into remission, or at least the severity of symptoms abated.

  • Guest

    A great article! Doesn’t mean that folks don’t have “real,” or very severe pain. And not all of these types of pains or health problems are strictly related to stress. However, stress can often play a role, so good stress management is very important. Enjoyed the article and it is something to think about!!!!

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  • Sherry Deeter

    Too bad none of the Dr’s my husband and I ever see mention stress and anxiety as sometimes a big role in your health. They don’t talk about it on their own.

  • http://www.REBECCA.tsfl.com/ Coach Rebecca Moore

    most people over eat when stressed and tend to make poor food choices. this leads to a terrible disease, called obesity, which is called the “mother or father” of all disease.

    • bgeor

      Great points, Rebecca. I work closely with numerous people from the non-profit industry, which is infamous for its notoriously low wages – at least those paid to ground-level staff members. These are folks who work ridiculous hours to accomplish the impossible on a micro-budget (and often without coworkers), all while earning salaries that just barely meet federal poverty-level guidelines – wages that certainly aren’t sufficient for providing quality food. These people wolf down pretzels or a dry Pop-Tart at their desks because they don’t dare slow down to take a lunch-break.

      And even if they had the luxury of time, they couldn’t afford better sustenance. When faced with buying lean proteins and fresh vegetables OR keeping your old car on the road for another week to get you to work, the decision is painfully easy.

  • Pam McShep

    Seven years as a spousal caregiver is catching up with me. The stress is unbelievable even though I now have some help from hospice. One minute you are a caregiver and the next a wife of a confused stroke husband….add to that the responsibility of everything you shared for 32 yrs and you can’t help but stress out. I walk daily but does not seem to be working lately.

  • floridalady

    I worked in customer service for 8 years for Comcast. Over that time, cholesterol kept climbing, I developed high blood pressure, couldn’t sleep, lots of symptoms. When I lost my job in May, due to a change in local management, I had regular blood work done. High blood pressure was gone, cholesterol was suddenly normal, I could sleep, I was certainly happier. My advice, if you are in a job that is making you sick like mine was, is to leave it, find something else to do. There is no pricetag you can put on your health.

  • Cheryl

    Floridalady, I can relate. Customer Service is EXTREMELY STRESSFUL. Most people have no idea how stressful it is to have people yelling at you all day long. I also had very high BP, while in C.S., after I quit I felt so much better.. BP returned to normal.Great advice, take care of yourself, those at work certainly are not going to be there for you when you get sick.

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