These are the symptoms of stress that you should watch out for
Everyone experiences stress at different times in their lives. But when is stress a problem that demands our attention? What symptoms should people watch out for? What are the health impacts of long-term stress?
These questions are answered by Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University School of Public Health.
CNN: Let's start with the basics. What exactly is stress?
Dr. Leana Wen:
Stress is a natural reaction. It is a human response that prompts us to respond to perceived challenges and threats. Some stress can be healthy and can push us to meet obligations. Perceived stress can drive us to study for a test or complete a project by a deadline. Almost everyone experiences that kind of stress to some degree.
CNN: Why can stress be a problem?
Wen: The same human reaction that motivates us to work hard and finish a project can also lead to other emotions, such as not being able to relax and becoming nervous and anxious. Some people develop physical reactions, such as headaches, stomach upsets and trouble sleeping. Long-term stress can lead to anxiety and depression.
CNN: What are the symptoms of stress that people should be on the lookout for?
Wen: In addition to feeling nervous and anxious, people experiencing stress can also feel nervous, insecure and angry. They often express other symptoms, including feeling a lack of motivation; have problems with concentration; and being tired, crushed and burned. Many times, people in stressful situations will report feeling sad or depressed.
It is important to note that depression and anxiety are separate medical diagnoses. Someone with depression and/or anxiety may have symptoms worsen when they are going through stressful times in their life. Long-term stress can also lead to depression and anxiety.
One way to think about the difference between stress versus anxiety and depression is that stress is generally a response to an external issue. The external cause can be good and motivating, like the need to complete a project. It can also be negative emotional stress, such as an argument with a romantic partner, concerns about financial stability, or a challenging situation at work. The stress should go away when the situation is resolved.
Anxiety and depression, on the other hand, are generally persistent. Even after a stressful external event has passed, these internal feelings of fear, unworthiness, and sadness are still there and interfere with your ability to live and enjoy your life.
CNN: What are the health impacts of long-term stress?
Wen: Chronic stress can have long-term consequences. Studies have shown that it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. It is associated with worse immune response and decreased cognitive function.
Individuals experiencing stress are also more likely to adopt unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, excessive drinking, substance use, lack of sleep, and physical inactivity. These lifestyle factors can in turn lead to worse health outcomes.