We hear the term stress often, but it is crucial to understand what it is and how it can impact your health. Commonly people ask whether stress can cause things like fever, chest pain, heart disease, allergic reaction, gastrointestinal problems, vertigo, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, hives, rash, heart attack, acne, chest pains, or irregular heartbeat. And, the big question, can stress kill you? We look at stress, what it is, what triggers stress, signs and symptoms of stress, and how to deal with stress.
There are times when you notice a person looks terrific, but they are mentally and emotionally strained.
While they are acting normal, there might be excessive frustration, nervousness, or anxiety due to a sudden change of events.
It is important to understand how stress may impact you or your loved ones, signs, and what triggers it.
It would help if you recognized the potential harms it may have on your body and how it can be dealt with to live a happy and peaceful life.
What Is Stress?
From time to time we all feel stress.
It gives us a rush of energy at times, for example working on an important project, facing danger, or competing in sports. The hormones and chemicals our body releases under stress prepare us for action. Our heartrate increases, we breath faster, and our blood sugar rises to provide energy.
Whenever a person feels threatened or angered, the “flight or fight” mechanism of the body activates. It is also known as the “stress response.”
However, if stress lasts a long time, these changes become harmful instead of being helpful.
There are two types of stress, acute and chronic stress.
- Acute stress is short term. It is the body’s fighting or coping mechanism that prepares it to face difficult situations. For example, slamming the brakes as an animal suddenly appears in front of your car. An increase in blood flow and hormones activates the autonomic system, making the person energetic, attentive, and alert. It increases concentration and helps to maintain focus. Our body is good at handling acute stress, and we usually recover quickly from it.
- Long-lasting stress, also known as chronic stress, may negatively impact your health. The chronic activation of our stress response and overexposure of these hormones puts us at risk for many health conditions, including anxiety, headaches, sleep issues, memory impairment and muscle tension.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is your body’s response to stress, and we can have anxiety even if there is no current known threat.
For example, the first day at a new job, talking in front of large groups of people, or a job interview are examples that may make a person nervous and anxious. If you feel anxious under certain situations, that’s normal.
However, if the feelings of anxiety are extreme or do not go away, it may impact your health. You could, for example, have trouble with digestion, sleeping, your immune system or cardiovascular issues.
In some cases, anxiety is more than a temporary response and some people have an anxiety disorder.
With an anxiety disorder, the anxiety doesn’t go away and may get worse over time.
The symptoms can interfere with your life activities, for example work, school or job performance.
There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.
If you care concerned about your stress or anxiety, it is a good idea to speak to your health care provider.
Please read our blog post Understanding Anxiety Disorder and Symptoms. to learn more about anxiety disorder, causes of anxiety, and treatments.
What Triggers Stress?
Multiple environmental and emotional factors might trigger a stress response. People experience different responses to these stressors. Common examples of triggers include:
- Conflict- at work and/or at home
- Unhealthy or sedentary lifestyle
- Being unhappy and unsatisfied with life
- Being bullied or discriminated
- Having no time to relax
- Overburdened with responsibilities
- Death of a close person
- Long term illness
- Financial problems
- Difficult tasks at work or school
- Disturbed sleep
- Bowel disorders
- Weak memory
Signs and Physical Symptoms of Stress
- Increased heartbeat and breathing rate
- Increased strength
- Inability to focus may be a sign of stress
- Tensed and worried behavior
- Mental changes like irritability and loneliness
- Depressed immune system
- Disorganized eating habits leading to weight gain or loss
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Body aches can be a sign of stress
- Mood swings and headache
- Excessive sweating
- Decreased sexual drive
- Tremors and muscle stiffness
- Grinding of teeth or jaw clenching may be a sign of stress
- Panic attacks
Stress and Our Body
Chronic stress has various harmful effects on the body, including respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, and more. The people are in a constant state of stress and anxiety as it becomes a part of their everyday life. They have an increased risk of different diseases and conditions like diabetes, heart diseases, and mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
9 Common Questions about Stress and Our Body:
1. Can Stress Cause Fever?
Psychological or Psychogenic fever is a state of low-grade fever around 99-100F. Due to a depressed immune system, a person might experience fever without any infection or inflammatory conditions, and it spikes only in the state of an acute emotional event. Studies suggest that the most commonly affected population includes young women. Keep in mind, there are many possible causes of fever, including a bacterial infection, a virus, some inflammatory conditions, medications, heat exhaustion, and more.
2. Can Stress Cause Chest Pain?
When you get anxious, your body sets off an immediate stress response, a fight-or-flight stress reaction. If you frequently have this reaction, it can cause muscle tension. Along with increased heart rate and muscle tightness in the chest, a person might develop sudden severe chest pain whenever stressed. A sign of stress chest pain is a sudden sharp, stabbing pain that might occur during rest and lasts from hours to days.
3. Can Stress Cause Heart Disease? What about Heart Attack and High Blood Pressure?
Having a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time is bad for your heart. There is an increase in cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure with chronic stress due to the rise in cortisol levels, contributing to an increased risk of heart diseases and sudden failure. It also increases the formation of plaques in the arteries that further increases risk. Studies link stress to changes in the way our blood clots, which increases the likelihood of having a heart attack.
4. Can Stress Cause Irregular Heart Beat?
Yes, stress can cause an irregular heartbeat. Stress may contribute to some heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) such as atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat. Anxiety is a response to stress, and one of the common symptoms of anxiety is an irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations.
5. Can Stress Cause Hives or a Rash?
Our body normally produces histamine in response to allergies, injury, and inflammatory reactions. However, stress can also trigger histamine release. Stress can cause hives or a rash. Hives, also called a stress rash, can result from your immune system reacting to the chemical or hormonal changes that occur in response to stress. This response can cause blood vessels to leak, causing red swollen patches of skin.
6. Can Stress Cause Acne?
Yes, stress can cause acne. When you experience stress, your body excretes hormones, for example, cortisol. These hormones can cause the glands you have under your skin to produce more oil. Acne occurs when excess oil, dead skin cells, and dirt get trapped in hair follicles.
7. Can Stress Cause Gastrointestinal Issues? IBS, Diarrhea, Constipation?
Stress can affect the functions of your gastrointestinal system. It can aggravate IBS and cause diarrhea or constipation.
Stress can impact your gut because it has different effects on your gut physiology. The brain releases hormones, like cortisol, serotonin, and adrenaline, with heightened anxiety. This can raise the serotonin levels in your gut and cause stomach spasms.
Diarrhea occurs when these spasms happen throughout the entire colon. On the other hand, if the spasms occur only in an isolated area of your colon, digestion slows, and you may get constipation. Those who respond to stress with an unhealthy diet, not drinking enough water, and getting less exercise can also increase the chance of constipation.
Stress has proven to directly affect bowel habits because of changes in the hormonal and neuronal systems. While stress does not cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it can aggravate or trigger symptoms. Many people with IBS experience worse symptoms when they experience increased stress.
8. Can Stress Cause Vertigo? Dizziness?
Yes, stress can cause vertigo or dizziness. Vertigo is dizziness that makes you feel like your or the things around you are moving or spinning. About 85% of vertigo cases stem from the vestibular system. Increased stress hormones can disrupt the neurotransmission in the vestibular system and cause vertigo or dizziness.
9. Can Stress Kill You?
The question is frightening in itself. Well, the answer is NO, but YES!
Stress cannot kill you directly, but it can ultimately lead to such changes in your body that cause premature death. A heart attack, a sudden increase in blood pressure, an asthma attack, or a chronic illness can all cause death.
Chronic stress can have a significant psychological impact on your well-being and may affect your ability to live a healthy, happy life.
How to Deal with Stress?
There is no specific medical treatment for it except for symptomatic medication or treatments, but that is usually short-term.
For a long-term solution, it is better to try different methods like:
- Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises all help the body to relax. It allows a person to control how stress might affect them by activating the “resting response.” By adding this to your daily life, you can keep yourself calm under stressful situations.
- Psychotherapy helps in dealing with mental health issues.
- Exercise boosts your mood and may help you feel energetic.
- A good diet is crucial to a healthy life. When some people are stressed, they may feel it triggers their desire for carbohydrates and sugar. Remember, it is very important to have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to cope with gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Divide your time and make schedules so that you can live an organized life. This will help you minimize triggers and manage and identify any sign of stress.
- Taking some “me time” is also very important to keep things under control and yourself sane.
- Spend time with your loved ones and sometimes even share your problems with them. This helps you feel secure and supported.
- Accept some things are not under your control. Don’t waste your time stressing about these things.
It is normal to be stressed sometimes – but do not let it dominate your everyday life.
Watch for signs of stress so you can manage them right away. It is better to treat it sooner rather than later because chronic stress can be harmful to you.
INFORMATION FOR CAREGIVERS – 3 Helpful Tips
1. Recognize Caregiver Burnout and Fatigue
Caregiver burnout, also called caregiver fatigue, is a physical or emotional state of exhaustion related to the stress associated with caregiving.
We know caregiving can be demanding.
Providing care over months or years can naturally turn short-term stressors into mental health challenges.
It can also affect your relationships and ultimately lead to burnout if you don’t look after yourself in the process.
To read more about caregiver burnout, including common causes, symptoms, and tips to prevent it, read our blog post Caregiver Burnout & Fatigue.
2. Understand- What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is when you take on the suffering of others. It can be associated with caregiving where your loved one is experiencing significant emotional anguish or physical pain.
Healthcare Professionals such as first responders are susceptible to compassion fatigue because they are exposed regularly to other people’s traumatic experiences.
Compassion fatigue includes emotional, physical, and spiritual distress in people who are providing care to others.
Please read our blog post Understanding Compassion Fatigue to learn more about compassion fatigue, including symptoms and caregiver tips.
3. Caregiver Self-Care
Self-care is critical for caregivers so they stay healthy, both physically and emotionally.
Self-care is essential to maintaining a positive mindset so you can continue providing support to others without burnout.
The benefits of healthy eating, exercising, sleeping enough, and staying hydrated are well documented.
Regular doctor visits, mindfulness, minimizing triggers, and relaxation can also be helpful.
Read more in our post, Self-Care Tips For Caregivers.
We hear the word stress all the time, but many don’t under it’s negative impact to our physical and emotional well-being. Understanding what is stress, triggers, and what symptoms we may display will help us recognize it sooner. Chronic stress can be harmful in many ways, and may cause things like fever, chest pain, heart disease, vertigo, acne, irregular heart beat, hives, rash, diarrhea, constipation and more. It is a good idea to implement healthy habits that help manage it. Being a caregiver can add stress to your life and can lead to caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue. Caregiver self-care is important to minimize the impact of stress.