Stress – Impact on the Mind and Body

Stress leads to physical and or mental tension. If stress becomes unrelenting and chronic it is a major factor in causing disease. The stress reaction involves the whole body. Organs and systems are constantly on the alert and physically prepared to respond to the stressor – even when you are sitting behind a desk or making a presentation or working too hard for too long or dealing with too many stimulating projects at the one time or dealing with too many demands on your time.

Stress can adversely affect the mind and body in many ways.

  • Alcohol, tobacco and other substance abuse: problems dealing with stress can lead to an increase in the consumption of substances such as alcohol, tranquillisers, sleeping pills, other drugs, smoking and caffeine consumption.
  • Chronic tiredness/fatigue: with the right levels of stress we are able to be productive, creative, enthusiastic and healthy, However when we have too much stress we become less efficient and productive and start to develop poor interpersonal relationships. Together these factors can lead to mental and physical fatigue which can lead to more stress and this often ends in ‘burn-out’.
  • Depression: high cortisol levels and serotonin-noradrenalin dysfunction – both common to chronic stress are implicated in depression. Stress can exacerbate all psychiatric conditions including depression.
  • Diabetes and insulin resistance: adrenaline released during the stress reaction inhibits the production of insulin – a major hormone that is responsible for moving insulin from the blood. When we have chronic stress sustained high blood sugar levels together with high levels of cortisol (a hormone) and a susceptible individual we have the potential for developing diabetes. Stress also makes existing diabetes worse.
  • Digestion: diarrhoea, oesophageal spasms; irritable bowel syndrome; poor digestion with bloating, gas and abdominal pain; spastic colon, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are some of the digestive system problems that are associated with stress.
  • Heart or cardiovascular system: heart attacks, high blood pressure, thickening of the arteries (atherosclerosis or plaque formation), thrombosis (formation of blood clots) and strokes.
  • Immune system: in the short term stress enhances the immune function but sustained stress suppressed its function. The more stress there is the fewer antibodies the body will produce. Both kinds of immunity (cell mediated and humoral immunity) are affected by chronic stress – this means that you are more likely to be infected by viruses (including those linked to cancer), bacteria, fungi and parasites. There will also be an increase in sensitivity to environmental toxins. The link between stress and the immune system is seen in disorders ranging from colds to autoimmune conditions (such as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis) and HIV/AIDs through to cancers.
  • Insomnia: difficulty sleeping is one of the first symptoms of high levels of stress. We need sufficient sleep in order to function properly and to be able to manage the day to day stressors of living in a modern world.
  • Obesity: cortisol (a hormone) is secreted during long term stress which leads to fat accumulating around the abdomen and back. Stress can also lead to behaviour patterns whereby we try to be kind or nice to ourselves and eat what we think of as ‘comfort foods’. These foods are usually high in fats and sugars.
  • Sexual and reproductive system: impotence, premature ejaculation, lowered libido, frigidity, loss of self confidence, premenstrual tension and infertility. Stress also play a major role in the experience of life transitions – puberty, menopause (male and female) retirement and old age.
  • Skeletal system: backaches, headaches (due to tension and poor posture), muscle tension. Stress hormones interfere with the body’s ability to produce bone – resulting in low bone density and osteoporosis.
  • Skin: approximately 40% of skin disorders as associated with stress. Dermatitis and eczema are often directly related to stress reactions. Problems such as psoriasis, urticaria, acne and cold sores are made worse by or brought on by stress.
  • Other problems associated with stress include: forgetfulness, persistent irritability, apathy, lack of concentration, social withdrawal and increased aggression.

It can be seen from the list above that the effects of chronic stress can be debilitating and widespread. If the conditions above are treated without due attention being payed to the stressor underlying the condition then improvements will, at best, only be partial. Relaxation and visualisation, exercise, balanced diet, vitamin and mineral supplementation and herbal remedies are just some of the approaches that can be of benefit. (You can find these on the

Dr Jenny Tylee is an experienced health professional who is passionate about health and wellbeing. She believes that health is not just absence of disease and seeks to actively promote vitality and wellness through empowering others. She encourages people to improve their health by quit smoking, cleansing their body, taking essential vitamin and mineral supplement and many other methods, including herbal remedies.

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