How does stress affect our health?

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One of the difficulties with stress is that people experience stress in different ways. This contributes to stress manifesting itself differently. So it would be wrong to over generalise when giving advice on how to identify stress in others. However, what we can say is that because stress has negative effects, it will usually manifest itself one way or another.  It isn’t always possible to prevent stress, so a key action in order to minimise risk is to identify stress-related problems as early as possible, so that action can be taken before serious stress-related illness occurs.

There will be changes in the stressed person. These changes may be emotional, physical or behavioural, or a combination of all three. So, the key thing is to look out for negative changes of any kind. Bear in mind that the negative changes are also likely to have knock-on effects e.g. reduced performance at work.


Of course, we all experience ‘bad days’, so we are really talking about situations where people display these negative changes for a period of time (e.g. 5 days in a row).

Prolonged stress undoubtedly makes people ill. It is now known to contribute to heart disease, hypertension and high blood pressure, it affects the immune system, is linked to strokes, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), ulcers, diabetes, muscle and joint pain, miscarriage, allergies, alopecia and even premature tooth loss.

When in a state of stress our bodies go into a reactive state, preparing to run away from or confront an imminent threat.  The blood rushes away from the extremities; the fingers and toes, and goes to the areas where your body needs it – adrenaline production (power/speed/anaesthesia), quads (our legs may shake), and the limbic system of the brain (according to Dr Steve Peters, the ‘Chimp’ part of our brain that reacts 5 times faster than the ‘Human’ part of our brain).

For example; we’ve all been in argument haven’t we?  How many times have we all thought of that killer line afterwards and said to ourselves “Why didn’t I say that?”  The confrontation has put us into that reactive state, during the fight or flight situation our brains don’t need to do a Sudoku puzzle or The Times crossword!

I wonder; if we could all take a five minute break during an argument to go away and write better material, how much better the quality of the argument would be?  Even better, if we managed our stress more effectively, perhaps we could resolve the issue without the argument happening at all.


Duncan Cropped

Duncan Rzysko, Chief Innovation Officer at The Stress Management Society

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