These days, you don’t have to ask people if they have stress in their life, because it’s assumed that almost everyone does. No matter what your life situation — whether a one-parent or two-parent family, regardless of your job or your income — no one seems to escape the feeling of “stressed out.” For the purposes of this article (and to make sure we are all on the same page), the dictionary defines stress as “a state of emotional or mental tension resulting from demanding circumstances.” Everyone experiences stress. The extent to which we are “stressed out” impacts all areas of the body. There are cognitive, emotional, physical, behavioral, and social effects of stress on the body.

Cognitive Effects

Sometimes stress may affect how we think or our ability to concentrate. Have you ever misplaced your keys or sunglasses more often than usual? Or not remember whether or not you locked the door when you left the house? These are a few examples of how stress can influence our cognition in daily life.

Emotional Effects

Feelings of worry and concern, irritability, restlessness, and inability to relax, or simply feeling blue, are all examples of how emotions may impact your emotional state. Whenever you have an emotion, it is important to pay attention to what is going on in your body at the time of the emotion. For example, when you feel angry your body responds differently than when you feel relaxed. Identifying and understanding how your emotions impact your physical body is also helpful because it increases your awareness of your physical health.

Physical Effects

When the body is stressed, breathing tends to be faster and more shallow, your heart rate increases and your mouth may get dry, or your muscles may tense. Additionally, it may impact medical conditions. For instance, if your blood pressure increases, this can lead to hypertension. In an article published by the American Psychological Association, chronic stress was found to weaken the immune system. Researchers Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser from Ohio State University stated that those under chronic stress are more likely to become physically ill.

Behavioral and Social Effects

Given the effects on your thoughts, feelings, and body, it is natural to notice changes in your behavior and interactions with others as well. Maybe your more isolated or more needy than usual. Maybe your snapping at people when you don’t usually snap. Maybe you’re also not sleeping because of those worrisome thoughts and feelings. Not sleeping also may add to the irritability, tension, and worry that you feel. Maybe you’re eating too little — or too much. Sometimes when we are under stress, our appetite changes, too.

The reciprocal influences of these effects create a negative feedback loop — where our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors feed into each other. The first step in breaking the feedback loop is identifying and recognizing the effects stress in having your life. Once you’ve identified how stress impacts you personally, set aside time to cope with the effects the stress is causing.

You may not be able to change the stressful situation, but you can implement strategies to help yourself better cope with the stress. If you have a medical problem of any kind, it is important to let your physician know you are going through a stressful period of time. Find time to do something that makes you feel good — whether it is a massage or helping others. Make time each day to — even if it’s for five minutes — to add joy to your life on your terms.

“Well done is better than well said.”

Benjamin Franklin

Don’t tell yourself you’re going to do something, and then not do it. That will cause you more stress. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to combat your stress, either. You have the power within you to control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In fact, the only thing you can control is yourself — so make the most of it! You may not be able to alter the stressful situation, but you can alter your thoughts and feelings about it. Try it — you’ll see.

In our next article, we will talk about stress management and how to better manage stress.

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  • Amy Trachter

    Psy.D., Ph.D.

    Amy is a licensed clinical psychologist with eighteen years experience treating teengers, adults, and couples who live with an array of difficulties. She spent her early career in academics, working at the Miller School of Medicine University of Miami. She has published multiple works about the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Prior to becoming a psychologist, Dr. Trachter was a special education teacher. She currently has a private practice and lives in Bergen County, New Jersey.