Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Short & Long Term Effects of Stress on The Body

The Long & Short Term Effects of Stress on The Body

Most of us know by now that stress does not discriminate when it comes to age or gender. The majority of us who live in more modernized societies are subject to fast paced lives, where multi-tasking is not only important, but absolutely necessary in order to achieve goals, get things done and even lead a semi-normal life according to our culture's standards. There is acute stress, or short term stress, which occurs when you're approaching a deadline or trying to figure something out. Then, there is chronic stress, which continues for an extended period of time, often bringing along with it, added factors contributing to stress levels, thus, wreaking havoc on our bodies, minds and spirits.

Stress is a normal physiological response of our bodies to any hostile environment. The effects of stress affect not only man, but animals as well. Stress can affect children, adolescents and adults alike and can be equally as detrimental.

Short Term Effects of Stress

The moment a person encounters a threat, his/her body prepares to handle it by the 'Fight or flight' response. During this time, certain functional adjustments occur in the body. When the threat is no longer there, the body returns to its normal state. This is a physiological response seen in all persons exposed to stress. Functionally, adjustments to short term stress can be:

Blood diverts from less vital organs to more vital ones.

Increase in the heart rate to supply more blood quicker.

Increase in the blood pressure to supply blood efficiently.

Increase in the respiration to get more oxygen.

Breakdown of glycogen stores in liver and muscle to get more glucose, hence, giving more energy.

Formation of more glucose from non carbohydrate substances.

These functional adjustments responsible for the stress' effects on the body, manifest themselves with different signs and symptoms including:

Chest pain
Frozen shoulder
frozen shoulder
Cold clammy skin with gooseflesh
Flushing and feeling of warmth
Dry mouth with difficulty in speaking and swallowing
Abdominal discomfort
Aggravation of Peptic Ulcer
Loose stools
Increased blood glucose levels.
Headache, back ache and neck pain
Depletion of energy stores
Flare up of diseases like eczema, psoriasis, arthritis
Difficulty in concentrating
Memory disturbances
Decreased sexual drive
Loss of appetite
Outbursts of anger

Long Term Stress Effects

When the stress factor is persistent or repetitive, the body keeps secreting the stress hormone cortisol and their blood levels remain continuously at a higher level. The body now experiences stress with extra burden due to the side effects of the persistently high stress hormones. Some irreversible physiological damages of the brain and related stress physical symptoms like organ damage are caused by these substances. They are manifested by:

Chronic head ache
Mood swings
Anxiety disorder
Substance abuse
Memory disturbances
Heart attack due increased blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol
Stroke due to similar reasons
Weight loss
Exacerbation of allergies including asthma
Irritable Bowel disease
Ischemic Bowel disease like Crohn's disease
Decreased sexual drive

Even when the stress factor is absent some of these physical and physiological effects of stress persist unless properly treated.

Let us take an example. If the person fails in an exam, he loses the opportunity of getting a job and financial security. His stress factor persists as he is jobless and has financial insecurity. He gets affected by the above mentioned symptoms. Even if he learns to live without a job some of the above mentioned conditions like substance abuse may still persist.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder is a delayed reaction to an exceptionally stressful situation or a life threatening event where the person feels helpless. After a dormant period the person re-experiences the past traumatic events as 'flash backs', or dreams and tries to avoid any stimuli or situation which reminds of the past trauma. The symptoms include:

Psychological numbing
Amnesia of certain aspects of the stressful event
Inability to experience pleasure
Reduced interest in activities

Stress in children

As said earlier, stress does not discriminate and affects us all, right down to the little ones. Recent research has shown that persons who had experienced traumatic events during childhood are more susceptible to stress during adulthood and some of the experiences are the reminiscence of the childhood trauma.

Some of the events which act as trigger for stress in children are:

Loss of parents
Mistreatment by step parents
Physical/sexual abuse
Sibling rivalry
Inability to adjust within peer groups
Educational stress
Bullying at the school.

If adequately and appropriately managed, the child should grow to lead a normal, productive life. If it is not, this child may simply grow more susceptible to stress' effects for the rest of his/her life.

Stress in adolescents (teens)

This is usually where childhood meshes with adulthood and the tween, is becoming more independent.

Stress in teens could be due to:

Pubertal Changes
Changing relationship with peers
New demands in the school
Issues in the neighborhood regarding safety
Responsibilities to their families
Negative thoughts and feelings
Separation or divorce of parents
Death of a loved one
Chronic illnesses
Changing schools
Financial problems

Stress in Adults

Adults are exposed everyday to different persons, stimulus and situations. Some of these can be very negative experiences, leading to stress. Moreover if the person has had a stressful childhood the chances are still high. The triggers could be:

Argument with the spouse
Death of the spouse, children or parents
Workplace stress including bullying by colleagues, inability to perform well
Accidents and arguments with strangers in the traffic
Financial insecurity
Job insecurity

The age groups vary. The stress factor may not be alike. But the effects of stress are very much the same. Due to the effects of stress on the body, the physical and the mental health get affected and the affected person finds difficult to lead a normal life.

If you want steps to take to combat stress in your life or someone you love today, visit:

Life is much too short and unpredictable to let yourself become buried in a world of worries and stress. Some stress is healthy, but based on the information above, we can become aware of unhealthy stressors and learn effective ways of making life more manageable, enjoyable and stress free.

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