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Chronic stress leads to health problems

man with chronic stressChristeena Haynes, MS, RD, LD, former Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Dallas County, University of Missouri Extension


Our lives can be very stressful and if we become accustomed to living with these feelings then we may not even realize how much it is affecting us. Our bodies are designed to respond to stressful situations in order to protect us from danger. However, when this response is constantly turned on from continued stress, it can lead to health problems.


So what exactly goes on in the body under stress? Whenever you feel threatened, your hypothalamus, located at the base of your brain, triggers an alarm system in your body known as the “fight-or-flight reaction.” This causes a sudden increase of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline speeds up your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and increases energy supplies. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, raises your blood sugar and causes your brain to use more glucose and prepares your body to repair tissues. These things are intended to help you during threatening situations.


Unfortunately, there are some negative effects related to cortisol as well. This hormone can suppress your immune system and prevent your digestive and reproductive systems from working appropriately. The release of hormones also affects your mood, motivation and fear. Typically, once you no longer feel threatened, these responses will stop and your body will return to normal. However, when you are under a constant feeling of stress, this fight-or-flight response never shuts down, which can lead to a variety of problems including sleep disturbances, memory impairment, skin problems, depression, digestive troubles, obesity and even heart disease.


Because the daily stress in our lives can take its toll on our bodies, it is important to learn how to deal with stress in healthy ways. Here are a few tips:


  • Make sure you have a good foundation by eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising and getting adequate sleep.
  • Build healthy supportive relationships with family and friends.
  • Use relaxation techniques and make time for yourself.
  • And try to have a sense of humor about things!


Mayo Clinic Staff. Stress: Constant stress puts your health at risk. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from


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Last Updated 04/11/2016