There are diseases caused by stress due to the emotional, physiological and endocrine responses that occur in the body. These responses can have negative effects on our health, both mental and physical.
Briefly, stress can be defined as a physical and mental state in which we enter in response to stressful events. The responses to stress are not only behavioral, although this is the only answer directly observable.
Diseases Caused by Stress
Physiological and endocrine responses are directed at increasing the individual’s energy so that the individual can respond to the stimulus quickly and effectively. This activates our autonomic nervous system (muscles tighten, increase our blood pressure, sweat, increase the size of our pupil …), activates our immune system and our endocrine system secretes epinephrine, nor epinephrine and steroids.
Activation of our immune system occurs to prevent us from suffering any infection while responding to the stressor stimulus, but if this stimulus lasts over time the immune system falls and leaves us exposed to infections. That is why it is so usual to cool off just after an exam period.
Epinephrine is responsible for releasing the stored nutrients and nor epinephrine increases blood pressure so that these nutrients reach the muscles and increase their activation. Nor epinephrine also functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and mediates emotional responses to aversive stimuli.
The cortical, a secreted steroid hormone in stressful situations, is responsible for converting glucose to glucocorticoids in that it can be used by the body also increases blood flow and stimulate behavioral responses. It also has negative effects such as decreasing the sensitivity of the reproductive organs to reproductive hormones (specifically the luteinizing hormone), which decreases the sexual appetite.
The experience of stressful situations in the long term causes cerebral damages due mainly to the exposure of glucocorticoids. Among brain damage is the destruction of hippocampus neurons that causes learning and memory problems. It has also been proven that the amygdale is damaged, which causes the person to identify a new situation as stressful.
Also Read: Can Stress put on weight?
In addition, stress causes a phenomenon called diabolic learning, this phenomenon occurs when you suffer a symptom for a long period of time, in this case stress, and create a self-destructive circuit.
Let’s say that the modifications of certain brain circuits cause stressful responses to any type of situation, which causes the person to suffer more stress, to modify his circuit again and give increasingly intense stressful responses. This phenomenon can cause irritability, mood swings and increased aggressiveness.
The effects that stress has on our health depends both on internal variables, that is, those associated with the individual, as external, those associated with the context. The following tables show some of the variables most studied in terms of their relationship to stress:
A vital event by itself does not generate a disorder; one must take into account the vulnerability or biological resistance of the individual and the characteristics of the stressor and the context.
People who are more resistant to stress usually have a genetic predisposition that makes them resilient, that is, makes them overcome negative stressful events, have a calm temperament, perceive that they have control of the situation, feel that they are effective, have a high self-esteem and are well integrated socially.
There are also external variables that make the event perceived as less stressful than belonging to community societies where it is normal to rely on the people in the environment to overcome stressful events, to have good relationships with relatives (without them becoming overprotective), which the stressful event does not occur during childhood and, of course, that the stressors are of low intensity and do not occur in a prolonged way.
In addition, the way in which stressful events appear determines the type of disorder that can develop. High-intensity but fast-moving stressful situations are just as damaging as those that endure over time but are of a moderate level; however, acute stress forms are often linked to anxiety symptoms while chronic stress predisposes depressive symptoms
Physical Disorders Related to Stress
Exposure to stressful situations over a long period of time can cause or intensify the physical disorders described below.
- Coronary diseases. These diseases can be caused by increased blood pressure caused by the neither secretion of nor epinephrine and cortical. These diseases include hypertension, tachycardia’s, and even an increased likelihood of having a heart attack, stroke, or stroke.
- Dermatological disorders. Hormonal and endocrine disruptions caused by stress can cause problems like acne (from excess sebaceous secretion), alopecia, blemishes, eczema, dryness, excessive sweating, nail weakness…
- Endocrine disorders. Hyper function of the endocrine system can end up causing type II diabetes (produced by the systematic increase of glucose in the blood) and, in the most serious cases, can end up leading the person to obesity.
- Gastrointestinal disorders. Increased secretions of gastric juices can cause stomach ulcers, digestive problems, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain and even a condition called irritable colon / bowel syndrome that I will explain later.
- Respiratory disorders. Sustained stress makes us more likely to have allergies, sleep apnea (cuts in breathing while sleeping that decrease sleep quality), and asthma.
- Muscular and articulator problems. Due to the continuous tension of the muscles, neck and back pains, jerks and contractures are frequent. In addition, this in turn causes articulator problems.
- Headaches and migraines . Increasing blood pressure can cause meanings (layers that wrap around the brain) to swell and can lead to headaches and, in more severe cases, migraines. A curious fact is that the brain does not have pain receptors, therefore, when our head hurts is not because nothing happens to us in the brain; it is usually due to the inflammation of the meanings.
- Immunological disorders. As I explained before, the defenses go down if the stressful situation lasts over time; therefore, you are more likely to get infectious diseases.
- Disorders of the sexual organs. The sex organs may deteriorate due to hormonal imbalances caused by stress. This deterioration can lead to alterations in menstrual cycles, decreased sexual appetite, worsen some sexual behavior disorders (which I will discuss later), and even infertility in both men and women.
- Problems of growth. The height we will reach in our adulthood is predetermined genetically, but in our genes there is no exact figure if not an interval within which our height may be. The height we reach, within that range, depends on environmental factors and one of them is stress. It has been proven that adults who suffered stress during their childhood do not reach the maximum height of their interval.
Influence of stress on psychological disorders
It is clear that stress worsens some psychological disorders, but why does this happen? According to the diastases-stress model developed by Cubin and Spring there are genetic and acquired components that make us react to stress in different ways, this reaction makes us more vulnerable or resistant to the triggering situations of psychological disorders.
Take the case of a person who has genes that predispose him to act exaggerated in stressful situations. This person does not suffer any psychopathological condition but one day divorces, fails to handle that situation, and begins to manifest symptoms of some psychological disorder. Possibly another person, with a different genetics, would have otherwise handled the stressful situation and would not have developed a psychological disorder.
Among the psychological disorders influenced by stress we find:
- Depression. It has been proven that this disorder is more frequent in people who have suffered chronic stress.
- Anxiety disorders. People who suffer a lot of stress in their daily lives are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders because they become too active in stressful situations because of the diabolic learning process explained above.
- Chronic pain. Some studies have shown that chronic stress produces hyperalgesia (excessive sensitivity to pain) in the internal organs and the somatosensory system and, therefore, is more likely to suffer from chronic pain.
- Disorders of sexual behavior. High levels of stress can lead to a sexual behavior disorder called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. This disorder is more frequent in women and entails the progressive loss of sexual desire.
- Sleep disorders. It is common for people who suffer from high levels of stress to develop sleep disorders such as insomnia. In addition, in a recent study, it has been shown that the ways that people have to deal with stress are inefficient.
- Eating Disorders. One of the most common eating disorders in people with stress is Binge Eating Disorder. This disorder is characterized by episodes of binge eating, i.e. the person eats an excessive amount of food for very little time and has a sense of loss of control over what he is doing.
- Alzheimer’s. There are studies that show that stress causes premature aging of key areas of the brain, such as the hypothalamus, and therefore increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Zubin and spring suggest that the experience of stress is essential for the onset of acute psychosis. Recent studies have shown that this is so; poorly managed stressful experiences that cause discomfort and anxiety can lead to the emergence of psychotic symptoms in individuals with a genetic predisposition. In addition, if these individuals have experienced an experience of childhood trauma, they are quite likely to develop psychosis.
Psychological disorders caused by stress
As well as influencing some disorders and helping them develop, there are also disorders mainly caused by stress. They stand out among them:
- Adaptive disorder or chronic stress. As explained in an earlier article, chronic stress is a type of adjustment disorder characterized by an unhealthy emotional and behavioral reaction to an identifiable and prolonged stress situation. That is, this disorder appears when the individual undergoes prolonged stress and does not carry out adaptive responses to that stress.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (or irritable bowel syndrome). This syndrome is caused directly by a situation that causes intense stress or prolonged stress. Hyperactivity of the endocrine system due to stress can cause an increase in sensitivity in the internal organs, such as the colon or intestine.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. This disorder occurs as a result of a traumatic experience that causes acute stress, such as suffering sexual abuse or witnessing a catastrophe. It does not happen in all people who suffer from this type of experience, it is more frequent to develop if the experience has occurred during the childhood of the individual or if he uses strategies that are not adaptive to deal with stress.
Finally, I would like to remind you that all these stress or stress-induced disorders develop because we use strategies that are unhealthy to deal with and not simply because of stress. So it’s in your hands, take care of yourself and use adaptive strategies to manage stress.