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The side effects of excess stress on physical and mental health

"It is extremely important to deal with stress as soon as possible, and not allow it to become chronic in nature," said Ritika Aggarwal Mehta, consultant psychologist

StressStress increases the risk of acid reflux, ulcers, stomach aches and cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, and vomiting. (Source: Pixabay)

A hectic lifestyle coupled with an erratic sleep pattern and certain situations can lead to stress.

“Stress is a response to a threat in any given situation. In other words, it triggers your body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This stress response helps protect the body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly to the situation. However, when this stress response fires continuously and stress levels remain elevated over a long period of time, then this chronic stress can put your physical and mental wellbeing at risk,” said Ritika Aggarwal Mehta, consultant psychologist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Center.

Below, the expert shared the many effects of stress.

Physical health side-effects:

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Respiratory: When stressed, we tend to breathe faster in an attempt to distribute oxygen-rich blood to the body. Some report feeling that they can’t breathe or feel a heaviness in their chest. “This can exacerbate existing breathing issues and/ or may create anxiety and panic where one may believe one has a serious physical health issue,” she explained.

Cardiovascular: Stress causes your heart to pump blood faster as well as the blood vessels to constrict so as to divert more oxygen to your muscles to give you the strength to fight off the trigger or flee from it. However, this also raises one’s blood pressure. Frequent or chronic stress can increase one’s risk of developing high BP, a stroke or heart attack.

Digestive: Stress increases the risk of acid reflux, ulcers, stomach aches and cramps, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, nausea, and vomiting.

Muscular: To protect oneself from injury, the muscles tend to tighten for the duration of the stressful situation and relax thereafter. “If the stress becomes chronic, they don’t get a chance to relax and this can cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, generalised body pain, and tiredness. This pain can cause further issues when one is unable to exercise due to it or has to take medication to deal with it,” she said.

Immunity: Chronic stress tends to reduce one’s ability to fight off infections making one more prone to infection and viral illnesses. It can also affect one’s recovery time


Diabetes: The body, when stressed, tends to increase the production of glucose to give one the extra energy required. When the stress becomes chronic, the body may not be able to keep up and this increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Dental: Bruxism or teeth grinding can also be caused by stress which can affect one’s dental health in the long run.

Sexuality and male reproductive health: Chronic stress can cause testosterone to start dropping which may affect sperm production, erectile dysfunction, or impotence. It can also increase the risk of infection to the reproductive organs. Chronic stress also tends to cause exhaustion which can lead to a loss of libido.


Sexuality and female reproductive health: Exhaustion can lead to a loss of libido for women as well. Additionally, it can affect the menstrual cycle – changes in menstrual regularity and flow and increased menstrual pain and cramps. If one is menopausal, chronic stress can enhance the physical symptoms.

Mental health side-effects:

Sleep: Stress tends to cause difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep. It may also affect one’s sleep cycle. Chronic stress can lead to insomnia.

Appetite: Stress tends to affect appetite wherein it may either increase or decrease.

Loss of control: Stress can cause one to feel overwhelmed and this can lead to one feeling one is losing control. This can further increase the feelings of stress

Mental health conditions: “Chronic stress can increase one’s risk for depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders. It can also cause irritation and increased anger outbursts when one finds it difficult to cope with the stressors,” the expert told

Executive functions:


*Stress may affect one’s attention and concentration causing a task to take longer to complete.
*It can also impact memory as it becomes more difficult to create short term memories and transfer said short term memories to long term storage, making it more difficult to retain information and thus learn.
*The organisation of information also becomes difficult in view of multiple thoughts racing and interfering with one’s thought process.
*Judgement can be affected.

“It is, therefore, extremely important to deal with stress as soon as possible, and not allow it to become chronic in nature. If you’re finding it difficult to manage the stress, please reach out to a mental health practitioner who can help you work on coping with it better,” she suggested.


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First published on: 28-11-2021 at 10:20 IST
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