How Unmanaged Stress Can be Harmful to Your Health

Glpg Great Lakes Psychology Group Counseling Therapy Stress Health

We all know what it feels like to be stressed, but what is “stress”, exactly? Stress can be thought of as the reaction to a change that requires a response or a period of adjustment. Even events we tend to think of as positive events, like getting married, getting promoted, or having a baby can cause stress because they require a response and a period of adjustment. The stress response is helpful when it motivates us to meet a demand or overcome a challenge; if demands and challenges are chronic, however, the body misses an opportunity to recover from the stress response. In turn, stress-related tension builds up and can lead to a long list of physical and emotional health consequences, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Changes in sleep and appetite
  • Stomach problems, heartburn, and acid reflux
  • Hormone fluctuations, low sex drive, and reproductive issues
  • High blood pressure and increased heart rate leading to risk of heart attack
  • High blood sugar leading to risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Weakened immune system leading to risk of infections
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal

In fact, the association between stress and health problems is predictable enough that one’s risk of a health breakdown in the next two years can be projected based on the stressful events they have encountered in the past year. Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed this survey which assigns a score to 43 different types of stressors. The sum total of points associated with the events experienced in the past year is then used to predict the likelihood of illness in the next two years.

Many of the stressful events included in the survey have been experienced by an extraordinary number of people this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, Americans were reporting money, work, and health concerns among their top sources of stress. Unfortunately, the direct and peripheral effects of the pandemic have likely only compounded stress in these areas for many people.

Here are some of the stressors included in the Holmes-Rahe inventory that you may have experienced this year because of the pandemic:

  • changes in finances and work-related stress (e.g., changes in work hours or conditions, job loss, changes in income or loss of income)
  • changes in the amount of recreation and social activities
  • concerns about health
  • experiencing personal illness
  • a change in the health of a family member
  • death of a spouse, family member or close friend

With many Americans experiencing significant stressors this year, the American Psychological Association warns that the mental health consequences of the coronavirus will be “serious and long-lasting”. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that taking steps to protect your mental health can help to prevent the serious downstream consequences of stress.

Here are some effective ways to manage stress:

  • Practice relaxation techniques, like meditation or yoga
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat nutritious foods
  • Get enough sleep
  • Practice healthy boundaries in your relationships
  • Seek out social support 
  • Get help from a mental health professional

If you are suffering, know that help is available from the safety of your own home. Great Lakes Psychology Group values access to mental healthcare for all, and we believe that getting started with therapy should be simple. If you’d prefer to start online therapy in the wake of the pandemic but anticipate that you’d prefer to switch to in-office therapy at some point, you have the option of choosing a GLPG therapist located in your community.

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