Some of the physical effects of stress are more obvious than others, but there are very few of us who haven't suffered from at least one or two of them! The signs of stress cover a whole range of physical and emotional ailments and conditions, and they can vary considerably from person to person.
Everyone has their own triggers or hot buttons, their own tolerance levels, and their own reactions to stress. What turns one person into a hyper-ventilating wreck, may barely phase someone else. In this way, the same causes of stress can lead to very individual reactions.
Reactions to Stress
Although not everyone reacts to a specific "stressor" (situation, person, irritation etc.) in the same way, the most common physical effects of stress are the same in most people.
Our bodies are designed to react to stress in an age-old way called the "fight or flight" mechanism. This means we're basically hardwired to deal with urgent, emergency situations by either fighting or running away.
Now, while this worked like a charm when we had to fight off wild animals, or run from them if weren't strong enough to fight them, it doesn't work so well when our stress comes from the breakup of a relationship, losing our job, or experiencing financial hardship.
The physical impact of stress on our body are universal. Our system is flooded with adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress-related hormones. The effects include...
These changes put a huge amount of pressure on our bodies, including the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastro-intestinal, nervous, musculoskeletal, and endocrine systems.
In prehistoric times, we would have killed the wild boar or escaped from the sabre-tooth tiger. This would have eliminated our stress and our bodies would react by terminating the "fight or flight" reaction. Unfortunately it's not so simple today.
The stress of unemployment, relationship problems, or financial worries are often chronic... lasting weeks, months, or even years. Our bodies stay in a constant state of "fight or flight" and this causes significant problems and damage.
Cancer, heart disease, depression, digestive issues, weight problems, headaches, and insomnia are just a few of the many physical effects of stress that takes a toll on our bodies.
If you're under stress on a daily basis, you may feel tense and anxious or suffer from panic attacks. At the same time, your cousin who is feeling a similar amount of stress may suffer a stroke. These are different physical effects of stress, but originating from the same problem.
One of the physical effects of stress that many of us have experienced at one time or another is the inability to sleep. Research shows that about 50% of all insomnia cases are the result of psychological issues such as anxiety, tension, or depression.
Insomnia is one of the most commonly diagnosed symptoms of stress. Sleepless nights could be temporary and caused by anxiety over a work related issue or because of feelings left over from an argument with a loved one.
Yet, insomnia could also be a concerning chronic condition, where you spend every night tossing and turning because of worry over personal, family or work issues. Even things as simple as watching horror movies can kick our bodies into 'stress mode' and stop us from getting a good nights' sleep.
There are other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking, bruxism (tooth-grinding) and nightmares that results from the physical effects of stress. In children, anxiety and stress can result in childhood insomnia or other sleep-related problems such as sleep terrors, bed wetting, and more.
Treating Stress-related Insomnia
If you're losing sleep because of anxiety, tension, and worries, self medicating with alcohol or other drugs or even watching late-night TV until you drop off aren't the answer - and are likely to make things worse.
To eliminate the physical effects of stress, you need to treat the cause of your insomnia, which is your stress. While, you probably can't eliminate all the stress triggers in your life, you can take actionable steps to reduce them wherever possible.
Learning how to effectively handle the feelings of anxiety you're experiencing can really make a difference.
If your stress is chronic and job-related, you may need to consider a change to your employment. The options are up to you but may include talking to your boss or co-worker, finding a new job, talking to a career counselor or going back to school.
The short-term anxiety caused by dealing with the problem is preferable to the chronic effects of long-term stress.
The same goes for anxiety and tension caused by relationship problems, debt, and other life challenges. Begin reducing stress and improving your sleep by establishing a regular bedtime routine and improving your sleep environment.
Some people help reduce the impact of stressors by using relaxation techniques, hypnosis, meditation, aromatherapy, and other natural/herbal remedies.
Even simple lifestyle changes such as watching your diet and eating sleep-inducing foods can make a difference.
If you're experiencing insomnia as one of the physical effects of stress, there are several avenue to try. If the self-help methods are unsuccessful, talk to your doctor. Turning to sleep aids, whether over the counter or prescription, should only be used as a last resort, and after consultation with your doctor.