Stress Related Illnesses
Why You May Be at Risk

Stress related illnesses occur when your body is put under constant stress for prolonged periods of time.  Your body is designed to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against external threats that put you in harm’s way.  It might be an aggressive animal, a natural disaster, or a brush with other near disasters.

You know the feeling: the heart starts racing, your muscles tense and you feel that surge of adrenaline—all signals that your body is preparing with energy to either fight the enemy before you, or get out of the way of the dangerous threat.

Luckily, you don’t experience these types of stressful threats very often.  Instead, you undoubtedly experience multiple less stressful demands each day, and your body still reacts to these stressors as external threats.  Your body is simply hard-wired that way.  Hormones, such as cortisol, are secreted to help handle the perceived threat, and then the body returns to normal once the episode is over.

However, in today’s world, the stressors you are experiencing are more continuous, and your body stays in a constant stress activation state with little opportunity to return to its normal state.  Having your body continuously secreting stress hormones can disrupt your body’s normal processes and leave you prone to stress related illnesses.  Check out  The Physical Effects of Stress: How the Body Reacts for a more detailed description of how stress-response works in the body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people experiencing prolonged levels of stress are at increased risk of developing stress  illnesses including:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Memory impairment
  • Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Third Edition
The stress itself may not cause the illness you are experiencing but its continuous effect on the immune system can make you more prone to developing a stress related illness. Sapolsky explains the detrimental health effects in his book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. "If you repeatedly turn on the stress-response, or if you cannot turn off the stress-response at the end of a stressful event, the stress-response can eventually become damaging. A large percentage of what we think of when we talk about stress-related diseases are disorders of excessive stress-responses."

Research indicates that stress increases your risk of getting diseases that make you sick, and if you already have such a disease, stress can increase the risk of your body defenses being overwhelmed by the disease.  By listening to your body and taking note of symptoms as they occur, you can make modifications in lifestyle with healthy eating habits, more exercise, more sleep, and relaxation activities.

How Does Stress Affect Health?

Strategies to Prevent Stress Related Illnesses

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