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The Harmful Effects of Stress – and what you can do about it

Modern lifestyles often lead to elevated levels of stress over a prolonged period of time. You may be so used to this feeling that you are not even aware of the effect it is having on your body, mind and behaviour.

Modern lifestyles often lead to elevated levels of stress over a prolonged period of time. You may be so used to this feeling that you are not even aware of the effect it is having on your body, mind and behaviour.

What happens in your body when you feel stressed?

At a physiological level, the body responds to a stressor – an external factor that disrupts the body’s homeostasis (optimal condition) – by activating a sequence of biological changes to prepare us for action. The brain and nervous system co-ordinate the release of “stress hormones” such as cortisol and adrenaline. These make the heart rate increase, the breathing quicken, the muscles tense, and redistribute energy away from non-essential areas.

Harmful effects of chronic stress

When stress becomes chronic, it can lead to many harmful effects – physical, psychological and behavioural. Elevated stress hormone levels can disrupt almost all of the body’s functions.


  • Cardiovascular issues – high blood pressure, heart disease, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • Muscle tension and pain (including headaches)
  • Digestive problems – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), stomach ulcers, heartburn
  • Skin problems – rashes, hives, psoriasis
  • Weakened Immune System – chronic stress makes us more susceptible to illness and may also be a contributing factor in autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Weight Gain – in addition to stress eating (see below), the stress hormones themselves encourage weight gain
  • Serious illness – chronic stress may be a contributing factor in serious illness such as cancer, diabetes and CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)


  • Anxiety and/or Depression
  • Confusion and/or Overwhelm – for example, racing thoughts, difficulty making decisions
  • Memory and Concentration Problems – stress affects cognitive function, making it harder to focus and remember things


  • Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms – smoking, excess drinking, or disordered eating behaviours can develop in an attempt to cope with chronic stress
  • Procrastination and Impaired Decision-Making – stress affects cognitive function, making it harder to make decisions and affecting productivity
  • Reduced Creativity – stress hampers creative thinking and problem-solving abilities
  • Risk-Taking – some people engage in risky behaviours (e.g. dangerous driving) when stressed
  • Social Isolation – stress can lead to social withdrawal, avoiding social situations or feeling isolated
  • Social Conflict – Stress usually exacerbates conflict in relationships. Irritability and emotional volatility can strain friendships, family bonds and work relationships
  • Reduced Empathy – Stress may reduce our ability to empathise with others, affecting our understanding of their emotions and needs, which adversely impacts our relationships with others
  • Absenteeism – stress-related illnesses contribute to absenteeism
  • Burnout – if left unrelieved for a long period, chronic stress can lead to burnout, affecting job satisfaction and performance, and even necessitating leaving the workplace altogether for a time

What can you do about it?

There are many things you can do to alleviate and manage stress levels. By investing the time to address it now, you can reap the benefits and avoid the large number of physical, psychological and behavioural effects of chronic stress.

The positive effects of physical exercise, time in nature, mindfulness meditation, spending time with friends and family, and making time for your hobbies, are well-documented. Read my Blog, My Top Ten Tips for Managing Stress, for more ideas.

As an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) practitioner, there’s one thing above all others that I find helpful for stress – EFT tapping! Not only does a course of EFT done with the help of a practitioner help you deal with the underlying root causes of your emotional stress, but studies show that tapping lowers levels of salivary cortisol by up to 43% after only one hour of group tapping. EFT can help you sleep, reduce physical pain, improve heart rate variability (HRV) and blood pressure, help you eat normally, help with anxiety and depression, and so much more. Read my Blog, 10 Benefits of EFT Tapping to find out more.

If you’d like to explore how EFT can help us deal with life’s challenges contact me to set up a free 20 minute chat to see how I could help you!

Do join my free Facebook group where I regularly offer free group tapping sessions.

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