When we think of stress, we might see it as a negative thing even though some types of stress can be positive for you. So what’s good stress and bad stress, and what is the impact of bad stress on your health? We outline the different types of stress and explain how bad stress can negatively impact your health.
The different types of stress
Stress is a normal part of life, but stress can take good and bad forms. Good stress typically arises in response to normal, healthy challenges in life. With this type of stress, you might feel nervous or excited. Having some level of good stress can drive you to perform better or help you stay motivated.
Stress can also be short term in nature. This type of stress is also known as acute stress. This is when you experience stress in relation to a specific event. Since it’s fleeting, acute stress typically doesn’t do serious damage. However, you could experience emotional distress (such as anger, anxiety, and depression), muscular problems, stomach and bowel issues, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.
Additionally, you can have chronic or ongoing stress. This type of stress can be termed bad stress as it can be negative for your health as well as relationships. Chronic stress goes on for a long period of time with low prospects of getting better. This type of stress could arise from underlying issues like poverty, dysfunctional relationships, miserable careers, or unresolved traumatic childhood experiences.
How bad stress can impact your physical health
Bad stress can result in headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, stomach upsets, and sleep issues. It can come with mood or emotional issues like anxiety, irritability, anger, sadness, and depression. So bad stress could have negative physical impacts on different aspects of your health.
- Musculoskeletal system – Bad, chronic stress can cause your muscles to tense up constantly, which can lead to other disorders in your body, like migraines, chronic muscle tension around the shoulders and head, and musculoskeletal pain around the body.
- Respiratory system – Stress could make existing breathing problems worse or trigger panic attacks in people with respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Cardiovascular – Chronic stress can lead to permanent issues for the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to heightened inflammation in the arteries.
- Brain function and memory – Chronic stress can lead to structural changes in your brain, including brain atrophy and reduction in brain weight, in addition to memory disorders and cognitive problems.
- Gastrointestinal and digestive systems – Chronic stress can contribute to gastrointestinal complications, including interfering with the normal function of GI tract. If the stress causes you to eat more, in turn it could lead to heartburn or acid reflux. Excessive stress could impact digestion and how well you absorb nutrients. Too much stress can weaken the intestinal barrier, allowing bacteria in the gut to enter your body, which can raise inflammation in the body.
- Immune system – Severe stress can impair your immune system and eventually lead to malignancy by suppressing the immune system’s normal functioning.
- Nervous system – Chronic stress can lead to a long-term drain on the body by causing your nervous system to be in the “fight or flight” mode constantly. In this state, you produce adrenaline and cortisol, which impacts your digestive system, heart, blood vessels, and other areas of your body. This ongoing “wear and tear” can have an overall negative impact on your health.
- Reproductive system and sex drive – Chronic stress can interrupt normal operation of the reproductive system by causing too much stress hormones to be released. In men, it could interrupt testosterone production, leading to a drop in sex drive.
Tips for effective stress management
So how do you better manage stress to avoid the bad form of stress? If it’s due to something specific you can change, try to address the situation. For example, you might be chronically stressed due to long work hours, conflicts with others in the form of hostility or harassment, or unfair treatment of some kind.
Try avoiding conflict where possible and make an attempt to spend more time pursuing your hobbies or with supportive people. If you can’t avoid a stress trigger, plan for them so you can be emotionally prepared to better deal with it. Try to exercise for at least 20 minutes three times a week or more. Keep to a regular sleep routine, and get enough sleep every night.
A healthy diet can also help, so avoid fatty, processed foods and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Finally, explore different relaxation techniques and commit to practising them. Meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and massage are some ways you could stay more relaxed and counteract your stress.
Having a level of stress can be a positive thing, but chronic, sustained stress can be detrimental for your health. Staying aware of the potential impact of bad stress on your well-being can help you identify possible triggers and apply strategies to better manage your stress. You may also be able to consult with a physician if your health insurance package covers conditions related to stress. Along with lifestyle measures like diet and exercise, a proactive attitude towards stress management could help you stay healthy and productive.
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