UA Matters: Effects of Chronic Stress

  • May 23rd, 2016

This is the first of a two-part series on chronic stress and how to lower stress levels.

Dr. Harriet Myers
Dr. Harriet Myers

Some side effects of stress, like a headache, can be felt immediately. But too much stress over time can wreak havoc on the body. Some chronic health conditions can be attributed to long-term stress, said The University of Alabama’s Dr. Harriet Myers.

Here are a few chronic side effects from long-term stress.

  • Difficulty sleeping: Insomnia is a common side effect of too much stress that goes on for too long. When your brain detects stress, adrenaline and cortisol are released. When the stress goes away, the brain knows to put everything back to normal. But if the stressor lingers, your body is chronically in a fight-or-flight mode, and insomnia can set in.
  • Upset stomach: Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and heartburn are all symptoms of chronic stress. When the body senses stress, there is a change in hormones, quicker breathing and a faster heart rate, which in turn, can affect the way food moves through the body and is digested.
  • High blood pressure: The release of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones can cause your blood pressure to rise. If this occurs chronically, your blood vessels can change. This can result in long-standing hypertension.
  • Sexual and reproductive issues: Women’s menstrual cycle may become irregular under chronic stress, and men can start to produce less testosterone. Both men and women can also lose interest in sex.
  • Weaker immune system: Being stressed all the time not only means you are more susceptible to a viral illness like the common cold or the flu, but it also means you’ll have a longer recovery period from any injury or illness.

For more information on how stress affects the body, visit http://healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body.

Myers is a clinical psychologist and assistant dean for medical education for the College of Community Health Sciences.uamatters_logo-thumb

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.