The effects of stress on physical health

The effects of stress on physical health

The effects of stress on physical health

The effects of stress on physical health 1920 1449 Paterakis Michalis
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Understanding how stress affects your body is vital as it allows you to address these issues head on. By recognizing the signs and implementing strategies to manage stress, you take an essential step toward maintaining not only your health, but also your ability to effectively care for others.

Let’s delve into the effects of stress on your physical well-being and explore how you can protect yourself from stress.

What anxiety means from a psychoanalytical point of view

From a psychoanalytic point of view, anxiety is a multifaceted psychological phenomenon closely related to unconscious conflicts and the interaction between the different components of the mind. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, identified anxiety as a signal of unresolved conflicts between the  id , the ego  and the  superego.


That is the most primitive and instinctual part of the psyche, representing innate biological drives and desires. It operates on the pleasure principle, seeking immediate gratification and pleasure without concern for consequences. It is impulsive, irrational and unconscious, driving basic instincts such as hunger, thirst and sexual desires.


The ego is reality-oriented that develops in response to the demands of the external world. It operates on the principle of reality, aiming to satisfy the ego’s desires in a socially acceptable and realistic way. The ego acts as a mediator between the impulsive id and the moralistic superego, balancing immediate needs with the constraints of reality.


The superego represents internalized moral standards, social norms, and the individual’s sense of right and wrong. It develops through the internalization of parental and social values during the process of socialization. The superego acts as a moral guide, imposing moral standards and imposing feelings of guilt or shame when the individual deviates from these standards.

According to psychoanalytic theory, anxiety serves as a defense mechanism that the ego uses to manage the tension between the conflicting demands of id and the superego. The mind’s attempts to deal with these conflicts can lead to heightened states of anxiety. Unresolved issues from early psychosexual development, such as the oedipal complex, are also thought to influence the formation of anxiety patterns later in life.

By gaining insight into the underlying causes of anxiety, individuals can work towards resolving underlying conflicts and developing more adaptive coping mechanisms.

In summary, from a psychoanalytic perspective, anxiety is viewed as a complex reaction to internal conflicts and as a signal of unresolved psychological tensions. Understanding and addressing these underlying conflicts form the basis of psychoanalytic interventions aimed at alleviating anxiety and promoting psychological well-being.

Understanding the stress response

Understanding the stress response is crucial as it is your body’s instinctive response to perceived threats or challenges. Delving into how stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline affect you can better equip you to serve others struggling with anxiety. Elevated levels of these hormones can lead to neurochemical changes that affect the immune system, potentially making you more vulnerable to disease.

You will notice that cognitive effects are also an important part of the stress response. These may include difficulty concentrating, memory problems or reduced decision-making abilities. It is vital that you recognize these signs, not only in yourself, but also in those you aim to support.

Additionally, understanding stress behavior is essential. You or the people you help may experience changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, or an increase in substance use as a way of coping. By knowing these reactions, you can better identify when someone might need help and provide the necessary support to help them manage their stress effectively.

The importance of psychotherapy in the management of anxiety

Psychotherapy, or counseling, can be beneficial in managing stress and, in turn, improving physical health. Stress has a significant impact on both mental and physical well-being and psychotherapy addresses the underlying psychological factors that contribute to this.

Psychotherapy provides a safe space for individuals to explore and understand the sources of their distress. Identifying specific stressors is crucial to developing effective coping strategies.

Therapists can help individuals challenge and reframe negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety. This cognitive restructuring can lead to more adaptive and healthy ways of thinking, reducing overall stress levels.

Learning how to manage emotions is a key component of many psychotherapy approaches. Developing emotional regulation skills helps individuals cope with stress in a more constructive way, preventing negative effects on physical health.

Psychotherapy often involves teaching practical strategies for managing stress, such as time management, problem solving, and relaxation techniques. These skills can directly affect physical health, reducing tension and promoting a sense of well-being.

Therapists often work with clients to develop individualized self-care routines. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being can counteract the negative effects of stress on physical health.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of psychotherapy may vary depending on individual factors, the specific type of treatment used, and the nature of the stressors involved.

Cardiovascular effects

You often experience an increase in heart rate and blood pressure when you’re stressed, which can contribute to heart-related health problems over time. This acute stress reaction, while normal in short bursts, can become problematic if it is a permanent condition in your life. As someone who cares about the well-being of others, it is vital to understand that chronic stress can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

The link to hypertension is clear: persistent stress can raise blood pressure, a primary factor in the development of heart disease. In addition, stress is well known for its inflammatory effects on the cardiovascular system. This inflammation can lead to atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up in your arteries, further increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.

In addition, stress can affect cholesterol levels, tipping the balance toward an unhealthy profile with higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Elevated cholesterol is another stepping stone on the road to heart disease.

Encouraging stress management techniques and lifestyle changes can be lifesaving in maintaining cardiovascular health and preventing long-term damage.

Disorders of the digestive system

Stress not only puts a strain on your cardiovascular system, it also causes problems in your digestive processes. When you are dedicated to serving others, it is vital to understand how stress can compromise your own well-being.

Chronic stress can lead to a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including pain, bloating and nausea. These discomforts are often the result of nutrient absorption problems in your gut.

This can cause spasms in your gut, hindering the digestion process and disrupting the delicate balance required for proper nutrient intake. In addition, impaired gastric emptying is a common consequence of stress, leading to a feeling of fullness or discomfort long after eating.

Stress can also lead to significant changes in appetite, from loss to increase, which can affect your energy levels and overall health. Complicating matters further, an imbalance of gut bacteria can occur due to a weaker gut barrier affected by stress. This imbalance can contribute to a number of digestive problems, making it harder for you to maintain your health and serve others effectively.

Results of muscle tension

Chronic stress can create pain and tightness in your muscles, leading to a number of musculoskeletal problems. Managing muscle tension becomes vital, not only for your well-being but also to maintain your ability to care for those who depend on you.

Stress-related pain in the lower back or upper extremities often comes from this constant muscle tension. Without proper attention and care, you may even face risks of muscle atrophy, which can seriously affect your health and functionality. It is important to incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine to achieve relief from physical symptoms. Practices such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga can help relieve tightness and discomfort caused by stress.

Respiratory response to stress

When stress sets in, your breathing can become rapid and shallow, signaling an immediate impact on the health of your respiratory system. This is not only unpleasant, but can worsen underlying respiratory disorders. If you are prone to stress-induced asthma, a sudden bout of stress can trigger an asthma attack, requiring immediate attention and care.

Understanding how to manage your breathing through relaxation strategies is vital. Breathing techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can help regulate your breathing, making sure you’re getting enough oxygen and staying in control. Not only does this help keep your own respiratory system in check, it also equips you to stay calm and focused so you can better serve others in times of need.

Learning and regularly practicing relaxation strategies can mitigate these risks, allowing you to maintain a more consistent breathing pattern and keep panic at bay.

Sleep patterns and stress

Your body’s reaction to constant stress can significantly disrupt your sleep habits, leading to a number of problems. When you are under stress, you may find that the effects of insomnia interfere with your daily life. It’s not just about feeling tired—insomnia can reduce your ability to effectively serve others by impeding cognitive function and emotional resilience.

Stress not only deprives you of the quantity but also the quality of sleep. Nightmares and anxiety are closely intertwined, often leaving you feeling restless even after waking up.

The effects of restless sleep go beyond sleepiness. You may experience difficulty concentrating, which can affect your work and daily life. Sleep disorders and anxiety are a troubling duo, with conditions like insomnia and restless legs syndrome exacerbating the cycle of poor sleep and daytime fatigue.

Furthermore, the correlation between fatigue and strain is strong. Chronic fatigue can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illnesses that can hinder your ability to care for others. So managing stress is key to maintaining both your own health and the well-being of those you support.

Consequences of chronic stress

Persistent strain on your body can lead to muscle atrophy and promote stress-related musculoskeletal disorders, which can severely limit your ability to perform your daily tasks effectively. In addition, chronic stress is closely linked to the development of serious physical and mental illnesses that can interfere with your daily functions.

The long-term consequences of unmanageable stress are significant. You may face an increased risk of high blood pressure, which puts undue strain on your heart and blood vessels. This can escalate into a greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke—conditions that can have devastating effects on your life and those you aim to help.

Chronic stress doesn’t just leave its mark on your cardiovascular system—it can permeate every aspect of your well-being, leading to a host of related disorders. It is vital to recognize the signs and take steps to mitigate the effects. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, using relaxation techniques, and seeking professional help when necessary, you can protect your health and maintain your ability to care for others.

Treatment and management

In light of these risks, addressing stress through targeted treatments and management strategies is essential to maintaining physical health. Cognitive therapy has proven beneficial for many by helping individuals understand and change thought patterns that contribute to stress. This not only improves mental health but also relieves the burden on the body.

The effectiveness of medications should not be underestimated when prescribed by a healthcare professional who understands the particular needs. These medications can regulate the stress response and prevent physical symptoms from occurring. However, it is important to combine medication with other management strategies for best results.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and meditation are powerful tools for managing stress. They can reduce muscle tension and promote a sense of calm. Regular exercise can make a significant difference to stress levels and physical well-being. In addition, the benefits of exercise should not be overlooked – physical activity releases endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers and mood lifters.

Lifestyle adjustments for relief

Implement lifestyle adjustments, such as regular exercise and relaxation techniques, to effectively relieve physical symptoms caused by stress. Exercise isn’t just for getting fit—it’s a powerful anxiolytic that can improve your mood and shield your body against the physical symptoms of stress. Incorporate activities you enjoy, such as walking, swimming or dancing, to ensure you stick with it.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga are not just hobbies. They are essential tools for maintaining your well-being and avoiding stress-related illnesses. These practices can lower blood pressure, muscle tension, and enhance your overall sense of peace.

Foods rich in vitamins and minerals support your immune system and reduce the effects of stress on your body.

Additionally, lean on your social support network. Sharing your burdens and seeking comfort from your loved ones is not a sign of weakness, but a step towards resilience.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of good sleep hygiene. Quality sleep recharges your body and equips you to face challenges with vigor. Prioritize these lifestyle changes.

You’ve seen how stress can wreak havoc on your body, from putting a strain on your heart to disrupting your sleep. Take charge by managing stress with healthy habits, therapy and lifestyle changes.

Contact the psychologist psychotherapist

A psychotherapist acts as an ally, providing a safe and non-judgmental space for you to explore the complexities of your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Whether you are facing specific challenges, are in transition in your life, or are simply seeking personal growth, a psychotherapist can provide you with valuable insights, coping strategies, and support tailored to your unique needs.

Investing in your mental well-being is an act of self-care that reflects positively on all aspects of your life. Take the first step today – see a psychotherapist and begin a journey of self-awareness, resilience and empowerment.

Your mental health matters and with the guidance of a qualified professional, you can face challenges, build resilience and create a more meaningful and balanced life. Working with a qualified mental health professional can help tailor the approach to individual needs and circumstances.


*Republication of the article without the written permission of the author is prohibited.

The process of psychotherapy requires commitment, dedication and is only for those who are serious about changing their lives. If you are considering embarking on this journey, call me at 211 71 51 801 to make an appointment and let’s see together how I can help you.

Michael Paterakis

Psychologist Psychotherapist

37 Karneadou Street, Kolonaki

I accept By appointment

Tel: 211 7151 801

    Πατεράκης Μιχάλης
    Ψυχολόγος Αθήνα


      Psychologist Athens