Chronic Psychological Stress Severe Health Effects


All people in the world come across stressful experiences in life. It is a major problem that leads to many life disturbances such as emotional, physical, and mental changes and in the long run precipitating factors to the development of various diseases. It is proven that chronic psychological stress causes diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. This paper presents various factors related to stress, such as what is stress, symptoms, causes, effects, and association between stress and four diseases, namely, rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In the last part of this paper, stress management techniques are also summed up.


Stress is a complex word to define as it is the subjective experience of a person. The intensity of stress differs from person to person. Stress is a strained situation in which the person is pressurized to respond to a demand. “Stress can be defined as an individual’s response to a physically, mentally and/or emotionally demanding situation.” (What is stress? 2009, para.1). Stress refers to ways in which the body of a human being will respond to tough, intriguing situations. The body will react in such a way as to alert the individual to ‘run away’ or face the challenge. The body does this by producing some chemicals that determine the individual’s response.

Production of chemicals in response to stress results in the development of diseases. Chronic psychological stress is proven to cause rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The major symptoms associated with stress are headache, grinding teeth, stammering, dizziness, faintness, sweating, nausea, constipation, breathing difficulty, palpitation, frequent urination, less sexual desire, nervousness, hyper anger, frustration, depression, decreased appetite, lack of sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty in taking decisions, loneliness, communication problems, reduced work and productivity, lack of interest to appear publicly and frequent crying spells.

Stress as a positive factor

Stress at a moderate level helps us in a way that protects us from accidents and harm. This is the finest defensive mechanism in our body concerning the responses to a sudden danger that happens to us. In a stressful situation, the body produces more hormones for making us be more alert in a dangerous situation. It helps our body to act suddenly following a threat in life. The overproduction of glucose gives us more strength to respond to a strained situation very effectively. Some reports based on scientific studies reveal that a normal level of stress increases performance. At the same time, chronic stress affects our performance badly and leads to the development of other diseases. A person who is overstressed cannot be productive and innovative in life.

Causes of stress

The causes of stress can be classified as being internal or external (Harvey & Zieve, 2009). In the former case, internal stressors may include diseases such as cancer and diabetes. This kind of stress comes about as a result of psychological disturbance on the side of the patient. This includes beliefs, some expectations, low self-esteem, individual perception of issues, and attempting to be a perfectionist. External stressors on the other hand result from daily activities such as job dissatisfaction, traffic jams, work and time pressures, lack of sufficient sleep, and fear resulting from insecurity (Today’s Women & Health, 2009).

Effects of Stress

Chronic stress is linked with a number of mental, physical, and emotional disturbances in an individual. A person who undergoes chronic stress may be affected by excessive loss of hair, baldness, insomnia, headache, pain in the muscles, ulcers and excessive dryness in the mouth, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, affecting lungs, affecting reproductive systems like menstrual disorders, infections in the vagina, premature ejaculation and impotence, skin problems, affecting the digestive system and psychological and emotional problems like irritability, anxiety, and depression.

This shows that stress causes physical illness in various parts of the body such as hair, brain, muscles, mouth, heart, lungs, skin, reproductive organ, and digestive system. Apart from this, it causes psychological and emotional problems. It is scientifically proven that chronic psychological stress causes rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Effects of stress are both emotional and physical. Emotionally, stress leads to heart attacks, related ailments such as hypertension and stroke, the rate of anxiety rises and the person will be depressed in the long term. The immune system may also be disturbed and hence the rate and likelihood of infections go up, particularly cardiovascular diseases (Haiken, & Herscher, 2009).

The nervous system experiences direct effects of stress and since the system is directly connected to heart functioning, chances of heart diseases increase. (Cooper, 1983).

Research conducted by scientists state the close connection between stress and coronary heart disease. They suggest that a coronary heart disease patient is likely to experience long-term stress, jeopardizing their overall health status (American Institute of Stress, 2009). The individual loses concentration in the activities he or she is undertaking. This will result in poor production. Also, the individual loses memory more often hence he or she might be unable to remember things. This harms the general well-being of the individual. Apart from this, the person is also likely to experience problems in his or her married life since stress results in decreased sexual performance. Sex is an activity regulated by the mind; hence stress, having a major negative effect on the mind, will deactivate hormone generation. (Stivers, 2003).

On the physical side, stress has tremendous effects on the health of an individual. There occur body rashes; there are irritable bowels and hives. The rate of an individual’s breathing increases and his or her heartbeat rate goes up (McCabe et al., 2000). Blood pressure increases. There is a reduced digestion rate hence the person is likely to lose appetite. If the stress continues for a long time, the person is likely to reduce weight considerably since he or she will be consuming less food; hence health will be tremendously affected. (Bunker et al., 2003).

The link between chronic stress and cancer

There is a connection between body and mind; so, the mental disposition influences on person’s physical wellbeing or disturbance. Physical changes are followed by a stressful event in a person. “During a stressful situation, the hypothalamus activates the pituitary gland, which in turn activates the adrenal glands to produce hormones that cause chemical changes in various cells and tissues.” (Stivers, 2003, p.2). The overproduction of chemicals in the body causes the suppression of the immune system.

The suppressed immune system results in the development of cancer and other diseases. The immune system is considered the sixth sense since it provides health status information to the brain. The immune system releases pro-inflammatory cytokines that inform the brain about the distress of the body and produces protein at the site of injury. Chronic stress increases the production of a chemical that results in the delayed and slow release of cytokines to the place of injury. According to a report of an experiment conducted by Janice K. Kiecolt on medical students shows that common stressful events cause to suppress the immune system.

He took blood samples at the time of exams and before one month of exams. He found the involvement of anxiety that led to the suppression of the immune system. Another study substantiates that widows are more vulnerable to the suppression of the immune system and thereby disease. The surveillance theory of cancer holds the view that the immune system prevents from developing cancer cells which are growing continuously in our body. The immune system understands these cells as the cause of cancer and destroys them from being tumors. “When the number of cancer cells becomes too large to be destroyed or when the lymphocytes become suppressed is when carcinogenesis occurs.” (Stivers, 2003, p.7).

According to a report on a study, Type C personality is likely to develop cancer disease. This type consists of the following characteristics: emotional suppression, dearth of assertion, conflict avoiding nature, rational outlook towards life and events and unemotional nature, obedience to the traditional rules and norms, a feel of helplessness and hopelessness, and willingness to self-sacrifice. From these facts, we can understand that those who belong to this type of personality have a tendency to suppress emotions and thereby resulting in the suppression of the immune system. Therefore, it may lead to the development of cancer.

Hans Eysenck reported that there is a connection between stress and risks of dying among cancer patients. The patients of melanoma in the first and second stages were divided into two groups. The first group was provided with stress management techniques and imparted education on stress. The second group did not receive anything as psychological support. The first group which was provided with stress management techniques showed improvement in the function of the immune system.

A study was conducted again on the same groups after six years and reported that there was a difference in the mortality rate among these groups. The first group which received support had a nine percentage of mortality rate whereas the second group had a seventeen percentage of mortality rate. The noticeable increase was shown in the percentage of reoccurrence of tumor also reporting 21 percent of reoccurrence of a tumor with the first group whereas 38 percent of reoccurrence with the second group.

Researchers believe that abnormal secretion of cortisol has a connection with the development and progression of breast cancer. Abnormal secretion of cortisol can be found in those who have abnormal sleep patterns, divorced couples, lack of social support, and people who are more sensitive to stressors. From these facts, we see that stress results in the development of cancer and other health problems. Stress causes chemical changes in our body and the suppression of the immune system.

The connection between chronic stress and coronary heart disease

Stress causes the manifestations of depression, isolation, hostility, and anxiety. There is a link between these manifestations and coronary heart disease.

Researchers of the National Heart Foundation of Australia undertook a study to assess whether psychosocial factors lead to the development of coronary heart diseases. They found that there is consistent evidence for the influence of depression, social isolation, and social support in the expansion and the development of coronary heart disease.

Many studies have proven that depression is one of the factors that are susceptible to the development of coronary heart disease. It can be seen throughout the world irrespective of age, sex, country.

“CHD risk is directly related to the severity of depression: a 1–2-fold increase in CHD for minor depression and 3–5-fold increase for major depression.” (Bunker et al., 2003, Is depression a risk factor for CHD? para.1).

Socially isolated people will not have social support when they are about to face some problems in life. Stress becomes more and multiplied when it is kept in secret without sharing. It can be noticed in people who are isolated everywhere in the world. Social isolation increases the risks of getting coronary heart disease three to fivefold. Acute life events like the death of the beloved, accidents, unexpected punishments, disease are the stressors, and these factors trigger coronary heart disease. The work environment also brings stress and strains in the life of more people. The studies in connection with coronary heart disease and stress show that there is a connection between stress and vulnerability of coronary heart disease. Some people are panic arousing unlimited feelings and over-excitement.

Studies show that there is little evidence to connect coronary heart disease and anxiety. “Depression, social isolation and lack of social support are significant risk factors for CHD that are independent of conventional risk factors such as smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension and are of similar magnitude to these conventional risk factors.” (Bunker et al., 2003, Outcomes of the expert working group deliberations, para.1).

The scientific reason for the association between chronic stress and coronary heart disease is that emotional stress causes the surge of adrenaline and it leads to the clotting of blood that results in heart disease. British researchers have found that constant work stress can lead to the production of a high amount of adrenaline which results in heart disease. A study conducted at Duke University brings one fact into light that stress that evolves during hard arithmetical calculation affects the constriction of coronary arteries leading to the slow delivery of blood to the muscles. Therefore, we can conclude that science promotes the theory that propounds the association between stress and coronary heart disease.

“Stress is associated with behaviors that increase coronary artery disease, and there’s at least suggestive evidence that it may even have a direct effect in producing coronary disease.” (Fogoros, 2008, How does emotional stress cause heart problems? para.3).

Many studies have reported that people who lost their life partner die early compared to the people whose spouse is alive. Another study shows that the people who face sudden changes that occur in life, such as the death of a relative, loss of job, have the risks of high incidences of death, and short-tempered people also have more risks of heart disease.

There is an opinion among people and patients affected with cardiac disease that stress is a contributing factor to the development of heart-related diseases. “Recently, research has furthered our understanding of the mechanisms whereby stressful life experiences may interact with predispositions to experience the negative effects of anxiety, anger, and depression (i.e. a feature of personality) and inherited cardiac disease proneness to result in both disease and acute events.” (Stanley, & Burrows, 2009, Abstract, para.1).

Association of Rheumatoid arthritis and stress

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease connected with the immune system and the immune system causes pain in the joint tissue by mistake. In the view of the report of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, there are around 2.1 million adults who are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in the US and the researchers and scientists have not recognized what are the exact reasons for the attack of the immune system against the joint tissues. Scientists assume that there are some associated factors with the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

“Patients often report that episodes of stress or trauma preceded the onset of their rheumatoid arthritis. While stress is nearly impossible to measure, some researchers have suggested that stressful life events, such as divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, or accidents, are more common in people with rheumatoid arthritis during the six months before disease onset compared with the general population.” (Carol, & Eustice, 2008, para.2).

When the life experience of the rheumatoid arthritis patients is shared, one thing is revealed that they have undergone stressful conditions in their recent past life. The major stressful incidents in life are accidents, death, divorce, job loss, punishments, etc. These stressful experiences are regarded as the leading factors to rheumatoid arthritis disease. It is proved that there is a connection between stress and rheumatoid arthritis disease based on a study experimented on rats. It is very difficult to come to a common platform of the conclusion because the experience that makes stress for a person may differ to another person as a challenge. Therefore, the scientists are not willing to state the effects of stress on rheumatoid arthritis considering the result drawn from the studies in animals. At the same time, there are a number of stressors in life, and it is hard to define the impact of different stressors on the person and thereby the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

What happens to a human body in a stressful situation is that the body secretes the chemical to the blood, and it causes the physical alteration in the body. The physical changes occurred in the body strengthen the body to overcome the stressful event. When the stressful event is overcome positively, the body refreshes avoiding the damage that occurred due to the stress, and when the stress is faced without any secretion or release it affects the body negatively. Considering all these facts we can conclude that stress affects the body causing muscle tension and excessive pain. Stress is a precipitating factor in the development of rheumatoid arthritis irrespective of sex, age, educational background, and socioeconomic status.

The connection between diabetes and stress

Stress has a vital role to play concerning the health of diabetes patients. When we confront a stressful situation, the body produces a high sugar level. Epinephrine and cortisol are the stress hormones that are produced to increase the blood sugar level. When a diabetes patient becomes in a stressed situation, it causes the production of high blood sugar thereby it leads to the vulnerability of diabetes.

People who are not affected with diabetes have a compensatory mechanism to make blood sugar normal but this mechanism with diabetes patients might have been damaged. So they cannot control blood sugar in a normal way. “For some diabetic people, prolonged illness or distress will keep their blood sugar levels up for lengthy periods. Often insulin will be needed or adjusted during this period, so recognizing periods of stress is crucial for people with diabetes.” (Nelson, 2009, p.1, Stress-o-meter, para.1).

Diabetes patients take weeks and weeks to recover from a surgery or injury. It is because of the increased sugar in the blood. Stress causes the overproduction of blood sugar and thereby a long-term stress results in a delay of recovery of the injury. Stress in diabetes patients can cause the alteration of blood sugar in two ways. People who are under severe stress may drink alcohol excessively and they may not be willing to test the glucose level in the blood. More often, they will be reluctant to do physical exercises also. Therefore, they may not have control over their body and will not be involved in stress reduction management techniques.

At the same time, hormones that are produced due to stress will directly increase the blood level of the body. Scientists have conducted a study to assess the association between stress and the development of diabetes in animals and humans. This study reports that mental stress in humans increased the level of blood sugar. “The effects in people with type 1 diabetes are more mixed. While most people’s glucose levels go up with mental stress, others’ glucose levels can go down. In people with type 2 diabetes, mental stress often raises blood glucose levels. Physical stress, such as illness or injury, causes higher blood glucose levels in people with either type of diabetes.” (Living with diabetes: Stress, 2009, How stress affects diabetes, para.6).

Stress management

Stress is a common factor resulting in the reduction of activity and it destroys the creativity and innovative ideas of the person. Some stress in life will have a long-term effect and it cannot be eradicated from life. It will be interrupting the productivity of life and lead to the development of disease. Therefore, it has to be managed well, for the smooth running of life. Some of the techniques used in stress management are given below.

The person who is stressed should not indulge in thinking about the stressor that happened in life. He should always think about the positive things that happen in life. Deep and slow breathing is a technique used in stress reduction management. This technique is observed as a successful technique in the release of stress. Laughter therapy is effective with stressed persons since it normalizes the hormones and blood pressure and decreases the production of chemicals in the brain such as adrenaline, dopamine, and cortisol and helps in the increase of endorphins. Listening to music is another way to decrease stress. Music therapy affects persons, and it relieves stress.

Proper exercise is an effective simple stress management technique, and it refreshes the entire body. “Stress management training was associated with a small (0.5%) but significant reduction in HbA1c. Compliance with the treatment regimen decreased over time but was similar to that seen in patients receiving stress management for other reasons in the clinic.” (Surwit et al., 2002, Abstract, para.3). From these results, one fact is unraveled that the stress management technique will certainly reduce the risk of developing diseases.


Stress is a vulnerable factor in our life affecting the performance of our entire life. This paper presents what is stress, its symptoms, causes, the relation between stress and disease, and stress management methods. The four diseases which are discussed here are rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The increased production of the chemicals in the body causes the suppression of the immune system and thereby the development of cancer and other diseases. It is a proven fact that there is consistent evidence for the influence of depression, social isolation, and social support in the expansion and the development of coronary heart disease.

Stressful experiences such as the death of the beloved, job loss, and another failure in life are regarded as the leading factors to rheumatoid arthritis disease. Diabetes and stress have a connection since stressful experiences result in the production of glucose in the blood. Finally, the writer has summed up some of the stress management methods also.

Summary of the revision strategy

This paper is analytical presenting about how stress affects the life of a person especially the patients affected by rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The writer follows the process of revision arranging the sequence of ideas in a way that it starts from describing what is stress, symptoms, causes, effects, and association of stress and the development of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and finally stress management techniques. The revision strategy that the writer used in this paper is given below.

  1. Utilizing the materials: the writer has made use of ten resources to assess the relationship between stress and the development of four diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
  2. Connecting the links between various studies: there are many studies conducted to assess the association between stress and health issues. The writer has picked up some of the relevant studies and has provided a link between these studies to substantiate that stress will certainly lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
  3. Discussing the various stress and health-related issues with friends: the writer has discussed various problems related to stress and health care. Based on the result of discussion with friends the writer has followed the sequence of ideas in this paper.
  4. Answering the different stress-related issues: the writer recognized the major health issues concerning stress and tried to answer in a systematic way describing that stress leads to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Reference List

Bunker, S J., Colquhoun, D M., Esler, M D., Hickie, I B., Hunt, D., Jelinek, V M., et al. (2003). Position statement: ‘Stress” and coronary heart disease: Psychological risk factors: Is depression a risk factor for CHD?. The Medical Journal of Australia, 178 (6), 272-276. eMJA. Web.

Bunker, S J., Colquhoun, D M., Esler, M D., Hickie, I B., Hunt, D., Jelinek, V M., et al. (2003). Position statement: ‘Stress” and coronary heart disease: Psychological risk factors: Outcomes of the expert working group deliberations. The Medical Journal of Australia, 178 (6), 272-276. eMJA. Web.

Carol, & Eustice, R. (2008). Arthritis blog: Does stress trigger rheumatoid arthritis or worsen symptoms?. About. Web.

Fogoros, R N. (2008). Does stress really cause heart disease: How does emotional stress cause heart problems?. About. Heart disease. Web.

Living with diabetes: Stress: How stress affects diabetes. (2009). American Diabetes Association. Web.

Nelson, J. (2009). Stress and diabetes: Stress-o-meter (Brunilda Nazario, Ed.). We Bring Doctor’s Knowledge to You. Web.

Stanley, R O., & Burrows, G D. (2009). Special issue article: Psychogenic heart disease-stress and the heart: A historical perspective: Abstract. Stress and Health, 24 (3), 181-187. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Web.

Stivers, J V. (2003). Stress and Carcinogenesis: The link between psychological stress and carcinogenesis: Abstract. Web.

Surwit, R S., Van Tilburg, M A L., Zucker, N., McCaskill, C C., Parekh, P., Feinglos, M N., et al. (2002). Stress management improves long-term glycemic control in type 2 diabetes: Abstract: Results. Diabetes Care, 25 (1), 30-34. American Diabetes Association. Web.

What is stress?. (2009). Today’s Women and Health: Achieving a Healthy Lifestyle for Today’s Women. Web.

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