Stress and Its Impact on the Body

Everyone has experienced stress. From the lump in your throat during your first recital to making sure there is enough money at the end of the month. The “good” stress is called eustress and is defined as that which enhances function. Eustress may be used to describe the stress one feels when performing in front of others. We all feel nervous when we are getting ready to perform in front of our peers or an audience, and that stress encourages us to be better. Eustress also helps us stay focused, alert and energetic. During an emergency, eustress provides strength and energy to deal with the situation, such as avoiding an accident or responding to an accident that has happened.

Distress is the bad stress, which is defined as stress that has been heightened over a continuous amount of time but does not relax in between triggers. Distress leads to health problems, irritability, and overall dissatisfaction with life. This article focuses on the effects of distress and how the body is impacted. Stress can creep up on us and make us feel that the symptoms we are experiencing are normal and part of life. This is not the case. Stress affects our cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral health in negative ways.

Chronic stress disrupts almost every system in our body according to Smith, Segal, and Segal at In their article, they outline the various ways stress disrupts our systems and affects multiple aspects of our health. Stress can cause headaches, nausea, increase in blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia, speed up the aging process, and lower the immune system. They also state that chronic stress can also rewire the brain, which can leave you vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

They broke down the categories of health and the impact of distress on each category in their article Understanding Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects. This is the best model I have seen for understanding the full impact of stress. Below is their model for categories of health and symptoms of distress.

Cognitive – memory problems, inability to concentrate, poor judgment, negative outlook, anxious or racing thoughts, or constant worry.

Emotional – moodiness, irritability or short temper, agitation or inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, sense of loneliness and isolation, depression or general unhappiness.

Physical – aches and pains, diarrhea or constipation, nausea or dizziness, chest pain or rapid heartbeat, loss of sex drive, frequent colds.

Behavioral – eating more or less, sleeping too much or too little, isolating yourself, procrastinating and neglecting duties, using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax, nervous habits such as pacing or biting your nails.

Alcohol, tobacco, and drugs have long been used to reduce the symptoms of stress. However, these agents actually keep the body in a heightened state of stress. Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek from Rockefeller University found in her studies that addicts (specifically heroin, opiates, and cocaine addicts) may be more sensitive to stress than nonaddicts because the stress hormone cycle continues to repeat and heighten instead of stop (Stocker, 1999).

There are numerous ways to reduce the stress one experiences in life. Some practice meditation, yoga, or prayer. Others take time every day for themselves, whether it is journaling, a bubble bath, taking a walk, or some other kind of quiet time that they enjoy. Whatever helps you to reduce your stress, practice it. Reduce your stress and improve your health.

Smith, M., Segal, R., Segal, J. (Updated September 2011). Understanding Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects. Accessed October 1, 2011.

Stocker, S. (1999). Studies Link Stress and Drug Addiction. NIDA Notes. Accessed October 2, 2011.

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *