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How does stress affect you?

Health & Science

By Dr Kizito Lubano

Stress is the ‘wear and tear’ our minds and bodies experience as we attempt to cope with our continually changing environment. There is good and bad stress. Job strain — the combination of high job demands and low control at work is the most common type of stress.

Stress causes changes in your body. It also affects your emotions.

Effects of stress

Immune system: Constant stress can make you more likely to get sick more often. And if you have a chronic illness such as Aids, stress can make the symptoms worse.

Heart: Stress is linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), blood clots, and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). It’s also linked to coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure.

Muscles: Constant tension from stress can lead to neck, shoulder, and low back pain. Stress may make rheumatoid arthritis worse.

Stomach: If you have stomach problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (Gerd), peptic ulcer disease, or irritable bowel syndrome, stress can make these symptoms worse.

Reproductive organs: Stress is linked to low fertility, erection problems, problems during pregnancy, and painful menstrual periods.

Lungs: Stress can make symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) worse.

Skin: Skin problems such as acne and psoriasis are made worse by stress.

How stress affects emotions

If you notice signs of stress in the way you think, act, and feel. You may;

• Feel cranky and unable to deal with even small problems.

• Feel frustrated, lose your temper more often, and yell at others for no reason.

• Feel jumpy or tired all the time.

• Find it hard to focus on tasks.

• Worry too much about small things.

• Feel that you are missing out on things because you can’t act quickly.

• Imagine that bad things are happening or about to happen.

How stress affects you depends on many things, such as:

• Your personality.

• What you have learned from your family about responding to stress.

• How you think about and handle stress.

• Positive thinking: Stop unwanted thoughts.

• Your coping strategies.

• Your social support.

The type of stress matters

Stress can affect you both instantly (acute stress) and over time (chronic stress).

Acute (short-term) stress is the body’s instant response to any situation that seems demanding, or dangerous. Your stress level depends on how intense the stress is, how long it lasts, and how you cope with the situation. Most of the time, your body recovers quickly from acute stress.

But stress can cause problems if it happens too often, or if your body doesn’t have a chance to recover. In people with heart problems, acute stress can trigger an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), or even a heart attack.

Chronic (long-term) stress is caused by stressful situations, or events that last over a long period of time.

 This could include having a difficult job, or dealing with a chronic disease. If you already have a health problem, stress can make it worse.



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