Recognizing the Long-Term Effects of Stress

Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life, but the common perception is that stress denotes something bad. 

But that\’s not always the case because there are different types of stress.

Normal stress actually provides benefits, while long-term stress, as you might expect, harms the body in many ways.

Fifty years ago, a German doctor named Hans Selye coined the word “stress.” Hans Selye was born in Komarno, Slovakia in 1907.

As a medical student, Selye observed that patients suffering from different diseases often exhibited identical signs and symptoms. They just ‘looked sick.’ This observation may have been the first step in his recognition of ‘stress.’ He later discovered and described the General Adaptation Syndrome, which is the body’s response to demands placed upon it. This syndrome details how stress induces hormonal autonomic responses, and, over time, these hormonal changes can lead to ulcers, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, kidney disease, and allergic reactions. (1)

Here’s how normal stress can help you:

  1. It improves cognitive function

In one study, researchers at the University of Berkeley found that in lab rats “brief stressful events caused the stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells” resulting in increased mental performance after two weeks. (2)

  1. It helps you dodge a cold

The fight-or-flight response you feel when you’re stressed is designed to protect you, whether it’s from injury or another perceived threat. What’s interesting about low doses of stress hormone is that it also helps protect against infections. Moderate stress stimulates the production of a chemical called interleukin and gives the immune system a quick boost to protect against illnesses unlike its evil twin, chronic stress which lowers immunity and increases inflammation. (2)

  1. It enhances child development

A 2006 Johns Hopkins study followed 137 women from mid-pregnancy to their children’s second birthdays. The study found that babies born to women who experienced mild to moderate stress during pregnancy had more advanced early developmental skills by the age of 2 than babies born to unstressed mothers. (2)

By contrast, chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms that affect your overall well-being, including:

  • Irritability.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Headaches.
  • Insomnia. (3)

Long-term stress can affect practically every organ and system in your body including your heart, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory center, skin, and immune system.

Over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of long-term stress is one thing but knowing how to deal with these effects is another.

Here are some links to finding help for dealing with stress:


Wishing you good stress and the ability to recover from bad stress!

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*Adapted from a post originally published on October 21, 2018

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