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The Impact of Stress

By Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Stress often is accompanied by an array of physical reactions. These symptoms

can be characteristic of other physical or mental disorders. A health care professional
can rule out other causes after you have undergone a physical examination. Signs of
stress can include the following:

sleep disturbance (insomnia, sleeping fitfully)

clenched jaw
grinding teeth
digestive upsets
lump in your throat
difficulty swallowing
agitated behavior, like twiddling your fingers
playing with your hair
increased heart rate
general restlessness
sense of muscle tension in your body, or actual muscle twitching
noncardiac chest pains
dizziness, lightheartedness
sweaty palms
stumbling over words
high blood pressure
lack of energy

Cognitive signs of stress include:

mental slowness
general negative attitudes or thoughts
constant worry
your mind races at times
difficulty concentrating
difficulty thinking in a logical sequence
the sense that life is overwhelming; you cant problem-solve

Emotional signs of stress include:



no sense of humor
jumpiness, overexcitability
feeling overworked
feeling overwhelmed
sense of helplessness

Behavioral signs of stress include:

decreased contact with family and friends

poor work relations
sense of loneliness
decreased sex drive
avoiding others and others avoid you because youre cranky
failing to set aside times for relaxation through activities such as hobbies, music,
art or reading

Recently, much has been reported about stress and its relationship to other
health problems, such as heart disease, blood pressure and depression. While research
has not confirmed that having a hostile or aggressive personality (so-called Type A)
directly causes cardiovascular disease, it may place you at greater risk, especially if
your heart rate or blood pressure rise dramatically in response to everyday stress.
Stress also has been linked to suppression of the immune system, increasing
your chances of becoming ill or altering the course of an illness if you already have one.
In particular, it has been implicated as playing a role in cancer and gastrointestinal, skin,
neurologic and emotional disorders, and even the common cold. Some studies have
shown that relaxing while listening to soothing music can improve immune system
functioning and, we can assume, help with our long-term health.
Elevated blood pressure is another response to stress. Too much stress with little
or no coping skills keeps the body revved up. Learning to relax can help lower your
blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure always should be discussed with your family
physician, who can help you sort out whether your elevated blood pressure is due to a
medical or genetic condition or a reaction to uncontrolled stressors.
If you do not end up identifying a method to handle your stress then it eventually
can lead to a heightened sense of dysfunction. This may result in increased anxiety or a
sense of depression because youre not mastering your world. Feeling depressed (for
example, sad, pessimistic, hopeless or helpless) is a common reaction to stress. When
these symptoms are temporary, they may simply be a reflection of lifes normal ups and
downs. But if they persist for long periods of time, especially after the stressful situation
has passed, you may have a problem that could benefit from professional help.


When stress and anxiety escalate without a means to cope with the stress, they
often are linked to many troublesome psychological and physiological conditions.
Oftentimes, psychological distress accompanies and/or produces these conditions,
which include:

multiple personality
obsessive-compulsive disorders
generalized anxiety disorder
hypochondriasis (fear and excessive complaints of bodily disease)
high blood pressure

Since prolonged stress can impact your health, its important to develop positive
coping mechanisms to manage the stress in your life.