It’s day four of a very busy week. You have to prepare for a presentation at work, take the kids to practice, make dinner, pack for an out-of-town trip this upcoming weekend and put in a load of laundry. Work and home responsibilities have been nonstop for weeks, and now you feel like you’re coming down with a cold, or maybe you caught a stomach bug. Are you really ill, or can stress make you sick?
What happens in your body when you are stressed?
According to the American Psychological Association, almost one-third of Americans say stress has an impact on their mental or physical health. Stressful situations increase the release of several hormones, including cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline. Higher levels of these hormones can cause an array of both short- and long-term health problems.
Additionally, stress can affect you by setting off your sympathetic nervous system, activating the “fight or flight” response. While useful in what could be life-threatening situations, stress can trigger this response in more benign circumstances, leading to added psychological stress.
Am I just stressed or sick?
While the symptoms of stress and some illnesses can be similar, there are usually some telltale signs you can look out for to help you identify what’s actually making you feel the way you do. Typically, you may experience:
- Stomach aches
- Trembling or shaking
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle pain
However, if you have been stressed and feeling anxiety for an extended period of time, you may actually be sick but not directly from stress. Chronic stress and anxiety can lower your ability to fight off illnesses, making you more susceptible to catching viruses, like the common cold.
Can stress cause flu-like symptoms?
Because chronic stress can have an effect on your immune system, you may be more likely to get sick. However, some symptoms of elevated stress levels are also flu-like, such as muscle pain and nausea. It doesn’t mean you have the flu, but rather your body is reacting to stress through those symptoms.
What is a symptom of too much stress?
Excessive stress can trigger some more serious issues if left unchecked. When you’re stressed, your brain sends a message to your stomach to change your digestion process so it can focus on what is stressing you out. This is why you may feel like you have “butterflies” or feel nauseated when you’re under duress.
Additionally, if you feel like your brain is “fuzzy,” you can thank increased levels of cortisol for that because it can make it harder to focus or concentrate. Over time, this can begin to affect your memory as well.
What happens if you stress too much?
If you suffer from chronic stress, you may be setting yourself up for long-term health conditions in the future. Hormonal imbalances can cause you to develop acne from an excess of oil. High stress levels can also lead to significant hair loss. Fortunately, these can be reversed – once you reduce your stress levels, your hair should begin to grow back in and your skin clear up.
However, some reactions to chronic stress can be more sinister. Those increased hormones can cause some serious health conditions in the long term. Cortisol causes inflammation and changes to your blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease or stroke. It also affects your body’s ability to metabolize fat, protein and carbs, which can lead to significant weight loss or obesity.
Stress can also lead to long-term digestive issues. Heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome and even ulcers can develop as a result. Chronic stress can lead to depression and anxiety as well, which may result in other serious health conditions.
Can stress make you sick? When to call the doctor
Stress can cause you to experience symptoms that are similar to illness as well as make you more susceptible to developing health problems. The good news is that you can speak with a mental health professional to learn stress management techniques that will help get you back to feeling well, both mentally and physically.
Learn about the behavioral and mental health services we offer at Bon Secours.