Niggly stress or major stress – which one can be fatal?

dangers of stress

Highly stressed people are at greater risk of long-term health problems and premature death than those who are more chilled out.

Those with high levels of stress combined with depression are 48 times more likely to have a heart attack or die. People with heart problems on top of their stress and depression live in a “psycho-social perfect storm”. These were the findings of a study at Columbia University in New York.

Whether it is the shock of a sudden, traumatic event such as the death of a partner, chronic stress because of work overload, techno-creep or financial worries, stress can be directly linked to several long-term physical and mental illnesses and premature death. View our article “top 10 life event stressors” to find out more.

Childhood trauma and mental health dysfunction later in life

Childhood trauma physically changes the way our brains are wired.  Often, it is responsible for mental health dysfunction later in life. Researchers have estimated that about 30 per cent of anxiety disorders can be linked to childhood adversity.

The brain adapts itself to circumstances.  Changes in our experiences and environment will therefore affect the way it responds. This happens from the day we’re born and continues into childhood as brain structures develop.

Cortisol and stress

When you are stressed, the adrenal glands release greater quantities of the stress hormone, cortisol. This is in response to the fight-or-flight instinct in situations of perceived danger. Higher levels of cortisol interfere with several mental and physical functions. Learning and memory become compromised, while immune function and bone density decrease. Too much cortisol can also lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, to name but a few conditions.

Stress and cancer

Stress affects the entire body, from the cardiovascular system to the digestive, immune, cellular, and metabolic systems. While many people believe that stress and anxiety can cause cancer, scientific evidence for this is sketchy. However, recent research has shown that anxiety and stress can make cancer cells spread faster.  This, in turn, may increase the risk of cancer. For example, when we’re stressed out, we are more likely to overeat, smoke, or find solace in the bottom of a bottle of wine.

Learn to manage the niggly issues

Stress as a result of major life events such as marriage, divorce, job loss, or moving is not necessarily what causes long-term illness or death. It is the everyday little (or not so little) stressors that will get you. More specifically, it is how we handle these niggly challenges that will have us either overcome or succumb to chronic stress.

By Linda Cilliers


The Content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Image:  Freepik

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