28 August 2003

Why can stress make one sick?

Prolonged exposure to stress is bad for your health and can result in anything form heart disease to ulcers to depression. Read on and find out more about stress and its negative impact on your health.


Stress leads to physical and/or mental tension and may be a causal factor in disease, if it becomes unrelentingly high, intense and chronic. The stress reaction involves the whole body: the senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, imagination, intuition, anticipation) perceives the trigger, the message of fear and danger goes to the brain, from there the cascade of hormones and nervous system messages flows through the blood to all the systems of the body.

The adrenal glands (stress hormones adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol), the heart, the lungs, the liver, the pancreas, the muscles are all on full alert. The body is preparing to stay and fight, or run away – the classical ‘fight or flight’ response.

The only problem is that our survival is seldom directly threatened. We perceive either external or internal triggers as threatening. The body cannot distinguish between a real or an imagined, anticipatory threat to our lives.

The body and mind deal well with acute, temporary stress triggers, such as breaking hard or swerving to prevent an accident, or working hard and excelling for a limited period of time.

The problem comes in with the chronic, long term, unrelenting exposure to stress we are exposed to on a day to day basis. Organs and systems are constantly being triggered for stress, being physically prepared to ‘fight or flight’, while sitting behind a desk or presenting a project, or working too hard for too long, taking on too many stimulating projects!

The genetically susceptible chains in systems or organs where the family weakness in the genes reside, will be the first to break, leading to disease. Genetic weakness in the blood vessels and heart, combined with a perfectionist type A personality, a workaholic, a driven person, with a sedentary lifestyle, little or no exercise, unhealthy diet, no relaxation? High blood pressure, high cholesterol, finally a heart attack or stroke is inevitable as the result of years of maintaining this behaviour.

Balance, relaxation and lifestyle changes provide the keys to the answer!




Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

The debate continues »

Working out in the concrete jungle 7 top butt exercises for guys 10 things pole dancing can do for you

The running vs. walking debate

There are many different theories when it comes to the running vs. walking for health and weight loss.

Veganism a crime? »

Running the Comrades Marathon on a vegan diet Are vegans unnatural beasts? Can a vegan be really healthy?

Should it be a crime to raise a baby on vegan food?

After a number of cases of malnourishment in Italy, it may become a crime to feed children under 16 a vegan diet.