Reviewed by our psychologist : Carlos Hoogenboom
Everybody experiences stress at some point. But sometimes it all gets too much and you can’t regain your balance. What is stress and what effects does it have on your body, behavior, mind, and thoughts? And when does stress become unhealthy? In this article, you’ll learn how stress works and about the adverse effects of too much stress.
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What is stress?
Taken literally, stress isn’t any more than ‘pressure’ or ‘tension’, and it’s actually quite healthy: Your body needs stress to function properly in certain situations. For example, if you were about to cross the street and a car suddenly came screeching around the corner at top speed, stress would cause you to jump back instead of continuing to cross the street. You’d then wait for the car to pass and the coast to be clear. Stress occurs because your brain releases stress hormones: Primarily adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline. In emergencies, this is extremely useful, but if these hormones are in your system for too long, things can become unpleasant. You’ll then start to suffer from a range of different physical and mental symptoms.
Healthy stress versus unhealthy stress
The name says it all: This is the type of stress that’s very normal and even healthy. When you’ve got a strict deadline at work or need to cram for an exam, then you experience acute stress. The same is true if you’re unlucky enough to cut your finger while cooking, or a loud clap of thunder startles you awake at night. You’ll notice your blood pressure and heartbeat have risen, your breathing has become more rapid, and you’ll even feel that your concentration and focus have improved. Once you’ve met your deadline, completed the exam, or the danger has passed, your body will relax again and all of your stress hormones will drop back to healthy levels.
When stress lasts for too long, it becomes unhealthy. This is because high concentrations of stress hormones have been present in your body for too long. This negatively affects how you feel, but also your physical health. Unhealthy stress can be caused by emotional situations that result in prolonged periods of stress. For example, this could be a divorce, losing a loved one, or losing a job, but also an extremely tight deadline, or (too much) pressure at work. If your body isn’t getting enough time and space to rest and recover from stress, there’s a risk that situations like these can become chronic. That’s when stress becomes unhealthy and can even make you sick.
Symptoms of stress
There are lots of different stress responses and you won’t necessarily experience all the symptoms of stress. It varies from person to person, but also from situation to situation. You’ll also notice that symptoms present themselves differently with short-term stress than they do with long-term stress. For example, you might have a reduced appetite or get hungrier as a result of stress. You may experience various types of symptoms:
Physical symptoms of stress
- Accelerated heartbeat and rapid breathing
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Increased, reduced or no appetite
- Muscle pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Back and neck ache
- High(er) blood pressure
- Sleeping problems
- Reduced immunity
Psychological symptoms of stress
- Easily irritated or frustrated
- More emotional, crying a lot
- Feeling powerless and unhappy
- A bleak view of everything
- A tendency to withdraw
Symptoms of stress in your behavior
- Being controlling, snappy or extremely critical towards others
- Excessively eating, drinking, smoking or taking drugs
- Avoidant behaviors – dodging certain topics, people, and situations
- Being extremely active, for example overexercising
- Wanting to do too much at once
Symptoms of stress in your thought patterns
- Memory problems, forgetting things
- Creative blocks or inability to solve problems
- Experiencing worries and obsessive thoughts
Getting help from a professional
Are you finding it difficult to get your stress under control? Why not make an appointment with one of our psychologists? They offer various treatment methods that will teach you how to handle stressful situations, offering you tools to manage your stress.
Do you have any questions about stress and how to treat it? Call us on +3120 214 3004.