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Home arrow Health arrow Mental Health arrow Can Stress Kill You? The Impact of Chronic Stress on Your Health

Can Stress Kill You? The Impact of Chronic Stress on Your Health

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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
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Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 10, 2023
5 min read 955 Views 0 Comments
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Stress is a normal human feeling, but chronic stress can gradually take its toll on your mental and physical health. Numerous health problems can arise, but can stress cut your life short? This article details the effects of stress on your body and whether it can lead to premature death.

can stress kill you

Stress is a natural part of human life. We all feel stressed from time to time, but when stress becomes chronic, it can disrupt your entire world. It can affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as you compete with daily struggles. When left unchecked, stress can worsen and quickly become unmanageable.

Stress may make you feel out of control and unable to cope with everyday life. Your mental health takes a hit, and you might notice physical health problems, but how dangerous is stress? Can unmanaged stress lead you to an early grave?

Keep reading as we uncover whether stress can kill you and provide 4 coping strategies to help you manage stress.

Can Stress Kill You?

Your body’s stress response cannot kill you, but untreated, long-term stress can lead to serious health issues that may cause premature death. Stress complications can trigger cardiovascular problems that may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.

Additionally, stress can lead to unhealthy habits that harm your health. Smoking, drinking alcohol, binge eating, and a lack of exercise can contribute to various problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Prolonged exposure to stress can shorten lifespan. Therefore, reducing your stress levels and finding ways to cope with stress can enable you to live a longer, happier life. It is critical to recognize the signs of chronic stress, so you can begin to make changes as soon as possible.

How Does Stress Affect Your Body?

Stress has multiple effects on your body. Stressful situations activate various stress hormones that generate physiological changes. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response, preparing the body and determining how you handle a stressful situation.

Your body responds to stress with a range of mental and physical symptoms. Among the most common physical effects on your body are the following:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches and pains, such as back or shoulder pain
  • Chest pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep troubles
  • Digestive issues, like constipation, diarrhea, and stomach upset
  • Weight loss or weight gain

Furthermore, stress can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections. For example, stress may indirectly trigger things like UTIs, yeast infections, and eye styes.

What Are the Symptoms of Stress?

Stress comes with a long list of symptoms. You might assume many symptoms result from illness, but they are often stress-related. As stress affects your body, mind, and behavior, you may experience a variety of signs.

Aside from the physical effects mentioned above, other symptoms of stress include:

  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Sadness or depression
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling irritable, angry, or impatient
  • Feeling unmotivated and disinterested
  • Reduced sex drive

The changes in your body and mood can cause changes in your behavior, such as:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Overeating or not eating enough
  • Social withdrawal
  • Smoking
  • Drug and alcohol misuse

How to Tell if Stress Is Killing You

When completely consumed by stress, it can be difficult to notice its harmful effects on your health. You can overcome short-term stress, but if your symptoms continue for a prolonged period, they will gradually eat away at your physical and mental well-being.

Try to recognize the warning signs of severe stress. If your feelings are persistent and you constantly feel anxious, worried, and overwhelmed, you must take action. Talking to your doctor or a mental health professional can help you identify symptoms of chronic stress.

How to Reduce Stress: Try These 4 Coping Strategies

Stress can affect everything from your heart health to your immune and digestive systems. Finding ways to manage stress can reduce its negative effects and improve your quality of life. It might feel like it now, but stress doesn’t have to dominate your life. You can take action to reduce it.

Here are 4 ways to regain control of your life and mitigate the awful symptoms. After trying them, you might wish to consider professional help to further deal with stress.

#1 Start deep breathing

Deep breathing is a particularly effective strategy to use in moments when you’re feeling stressed. It is also a popular coping technique for those experiencing anxiety and panic attacks.

Taking a moment to breathe slowly and deeply can provide fast stress relief by triggering body relaxation responses. It works by lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, which is your body’s primary stress hormone.

#2 Try journaling

Journaling is an excellent tool for healing the soul and focusing the mind. It provides a space for you to vent about whatever is troubling you in your daily life. It is a personal practice that only you will see, so you can be completely open and honest about your worries. There are many journaling and mental health apps that you could try using.

You can treat journaling as an emotional release – just pour your thoughts down on paper. Sometimes, you can use your words to identify patterns in your thoughts and behaviors. This may help you find solutions to particular problems in your daily life.

#3 Learn how to meditate

Meditation is a practice that anybody can use to achieve a calmer state of being. Studies show that mindfulness meditation benefits anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and serious mental illnesses. It can reduce stress by focusing your mind and streamlining your thoughts.

Mindfulness, in general, can enhance happiness and reduce signs of depression and anxiety. So, penciling a time in your diary to meditate could be great for your stress levels. You could also practice additional mindful activities, like yoga and stretching, to get your body moving.

#4 Make time for yourself

Relationships, work, and social commitments all demand your time. However, nothing is more important than making time for yourself when you are suffering from anxiety. Self-care promotes awareness, self-control, and self-reliance to encourage optimal health and well-being.

It might seem impossible when you’re balancing a busy schedule, but there are many ways to give yourself more time. It doesn’t always have to include a long evening of pampering. It can be simple things like scheduling morning walks or going to a yoga class on the weekend.

Here are some top tips for making time for you:

  • Schedule time each week, like you would other commitments
  • Establish a routine
  • Create boundaries at work and in your relationships
  • Learn how to say no
  • Learn to delegate tasks to others

A Word From a MD

Although a normal emotion, feeling stressed for long periods can significantly harm your health. Chronic stress puts your health in danger, as it triggers multiple complications. While stress is unlikely to be listed as the cause of death, it can contribute to early mortality.

Heart disease is one example of a stress-related death. Stress directly affects the heart rate and blood flow. It can also influence an unhealthy lifestyle that includes smoking and overeating, two known contributors to heart problems.

Moreover, stress causes your body to overproduce cortisol in response to stressful situations. Chronic cortisol elevations can suppress your immune system’s effectiveness, making you more prone to infections and inflammation.

You can spot stress by looking out for the signs. These include constant worrying, headaches, unexplained aches and pains, restlessness, sleep issues, and problems with the digestive system. You might notice weight loss or weight gain if stress disrupts your usual eating habits.

Stress may feel impossible to overcome, but you can very much manage it with the right steps. Prioritizing self-care practices can help you feel more calm and more relaxed. That means getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and cutting out self-destructive behavior.

If lifestyle changes don’t help, consider reaching out to a professional for advice. Plenty of help is available, so you do not need to cope with stress alone. Remember, opening up to your friends and family can also benefit your mood and aid your healing journey to better mental health.

Conclusion

It is so debilitating that you might wonder if stress can kill you. Now, being stressed won’t kill you, but it might raise the risk of health complications that do lead to early death. High blood pressure, heart disease, and a weakened immune system are all issues linked to chronic stress.

Stress affects our entire bodies. While we can handle it in the short-term, prolonged stress is serious. You should seek to change your lifestyle as soon as possible to mitigate stress and improve your health and wellness. Your body will soon thank you!

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
HR_author_photo_Rosmy
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 10, 2023
5 min read 955 Views 0 Comments
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