Stress is a type of adaptive response because it alerts us to a given situation that requires us to be prepared to face it. When it is maintained over time, it produces an exhaustion in the organism, thus psychosomatic diseases may appear at different levels. In addition to this, there are behavioral and cognitive changes associated with this maintenance of stress over time.
How stress affects us
A stressful event always involves a change or the expectation of a change, in this sense it constitutes a threat to homeostasis (natural balance of the organism), so it puts us on alert. The stressful potential of a life event is a function of the amount of change involved: the greater the change, the greater the probability of becoming ill.
The overload of stress on the body does not act in a specific way, predisposing us to a particular disease, but rather leaves us in a state of helplessness, impairing our body’s overall ability to regenerate, defend and recover, making us more vulnerable.
Minor events, the “little annoyances” such as the typical rush-hour traffic jam on the highway, form the bulk of small, stressful, day-to-day events. With the force of habit, these everyday discomforts become part of our routine, we incorporate them as something habitual, normalizing them, and we respond less to these small complications than to major life changes.
Daily stress and physical health alterations
The nervous and hormonal alterations generated by stress have repercussions of various kinds on our state of health. Below you can see which are the main ones.
1. Gastrointestinal disorders
There are several studies that relate daily stress with the course of some chronic medical diseases. Gastrointestinal disorders have received some attention, such as Chron’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
With regard to irritable bowel syndrome, several authors have indicated the convenience of implementing cognitive-behavioral stress coping programs aimed at the treatment of these patients and even more so if one takes into account that medical treatments are only of a palliative type.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis
Some research has linked the stress of life events to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, although it seems that stress, especially daily stress, plays a role in aggravating symptoms. There is some controversy as to whether it acts by mediating stress-associated immunological changes or whether it does so by increasing sensitivity to the pain response.
Already in 1916 the statistician Frederick. L. Hoffman pointed to the low prevalence of cancer among primitive peoples, suggesting a close relationship between the development of this disease and the lifestyle of modern societies.
4. Coronary artery disease
Daily stress can aggravate the symptoms of angina pectoris in patients with coronary artery disease. On the other hand, increased stress may predict the following week’s angina.
5. Cardiovascular responses
There is a relationship between stress and hypertension and/or coronary artery disease and they play an important role in increasing blood pressure.
6. Infectious diseases
Several authors point to daily stress as a factor that increases vulnerability to infectious diseases such as upper respiratory tract infections, influenza or herpes virus infections.
7. Immune system
The literature linking the involvement of stress in relation to the functioning of the immune system is abundant. This effect could be observed in immune-mediated diseases such as infectious diseases, cancer or autoimmune diseases.
The consequences of stress are multiple, affecting various levels (physical and psychological) and manifesting themselves in very different ways, both in form and severity. Much of this stress overload is linked to our particular lifestyle and it is up to us to make changes to reduce this harmful influence on our health.
Remember: Living a moment of stress is not the same as living under stress.