Stress and Your Health

What is stress?

Stress is a feeling you get when faced with a challenge. In small doses, stress can be good for you because it makes you more alert and gives you a burst of energy. For instance, if you start to cross the street and see a car about to run you over, that jolt you feel helps you to jump out of the way before you get hit. But feeling stressed for a long time can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Even though it may seem hard to find ways to de-stress with all the things you have to do, it's important to find those ways. Your health depends on it.

What are the most common causes of stress?

Stress happens when people feel like they don't have the tools to manage all of the demands in their lives. Stress can be short-term or long-term. Missing the bus or arguing with your spouse or partner can cause short-term stress. Money problems or trouble at work can cause long-term stress. Even happy events, like having a baby or getting married can cause stress. Some of the most common stressful life events include:

  • Death of a spouse
  • Death of a close family member
  • Divorce
  • Losing your job
  • Major personal illness or injury
  • Marital separation
  • Marriage
  • Pregnancy
  • Retirement
  • Spending time in jail

What are some common signs of stress?

Everyone responds to stress a little differently. Your symptoms may be different from someone else's. Here are some of the signs to look for:

  • Not eating or eating too much
  • Feeling like you have no control
  • Needing to have too much control
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Trouble getting things done
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Short temper
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Back pain
  • General aches and pains

These symptoms may also be signs of depression or anxiety, which can be caused by long-term stress.

Do women react to stress differently than men?

One recent survey found that women were more likely to experience physical symptoms of stress than men. But we don't have enough proof to say that this applies to all women. We do know that women often cope with stress in different ways than men. Women “tend and befriend,” taking care of those closest to them, but also drawing support from friends and family. Men are more likely to have the “fight or flight” response. They cope by “escaping” into a relaxing activity or other distraction.

Can stress affect my health?

The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones. These hormones make blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels go up. Long-term stress can help cause a variety of health problems, including:

  • Mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart beats
  • Menstrual problems
  • Acne and other skin problems

Does stress cause ulcers?

No, stress doesn't cause ulcers, but it can make them worse. Most ulcers are caused by a germ called H. pylori. Researchers think people might get it through food or water. Most ulcers can be cured by taking a combination of antibiotics and other drugs.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur after living through or seeing a dangerous event. It can also occur after a sudden traumatic event. This can include:

  • Being a victim of or seeing violence
  • Being a victim of sexual or physical abuse or assault
  • The death or serious illness of a loved one
  • Fighting in a war
  • A severe car crash or a plane crash
  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires

Reference: Dept of Health and Human Services

Last updated May 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

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