Consequences of Stress
Stress is any condition that causes us to feel uncomfortable. When the pressure of stress is severe and long, the continued physiological, psychological, and behavioral pathology effects on the bodily organs of the individual are evident. The individual’s ability to think, feel, and act is also affected. The consequences of stress can be categorized into:
- Physiological consequences
- Psychological consequences
- Organizational consequences
- Behavioral consequences
Physiological Consequences of Stress
Stress can have a negative influence on health. This negative influence can be seen if an individual can interpret the bodily symptoms of stress. Some symptoms can be readily reorganized, while other symptoms are vague and ambiguous. For example, severe stomach pain accompanied by bloody stools is enough for the person to seek medical help.
A chest pain, however, may prompt the person to “wait and see”. A short reassurance may actually be a long-term danger. Stress can cause the heart rate to rise, increase blood pressure, oxygen intake, blood sugar level, and serum cholesterol, cause problems in the digestive system, and decrease the galvanic skin response. Certain physiological consequences due to stress are:
Heart Disease: Stress can influence the activity of the heart as it activates the sympathetic nervous system (the automatic part of the nervous system that affects many organs, including the heart). Such stressful situations negatively affect the heart in several ways. Sudden stress increases the pumping action and heart rate as well as causing the arteries to constrict, thereby restricting blood flow. Stress also causes blood to become sticker possibly in preparation for potential injury, increasing the likelihood of an artery-clogging blood clot.
Gastrointestinal Problems: The brain and intestine are strongly related and mediated by many of the same hormones. It is not surprising then that prolonged stress can disrupt the digestive system, irritating the large intestine, causing diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and bloating. Excessive production of digestive acids in the stomach may also cause a painful burning sensation.
Diabetes: Chronic stress has been associated with the development of insulin resistance, a condition in which the body is unable to use insulin effectively to regulate glucose. Insulin resistance is a primary factor in diabetes.
Headaches: Headaches are among the most common stress-related physical ailments. The most common headache is the muscle-tension headache, which is usually caused by the contraction of muscles in the shoulders, neck, forehead, and scalp.
Hypertension: Hypertension is when the blood pressure is elevated. When we are extremely stressed our blood pressure rises.
Asthma: Asthma is a respiratory disorder in which the main tube of the windpipe does not function clearly, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma attacks caused by an allergic reaction, stress, and emotional responses such as anger, or even by laughing too hard and loud.
Cancer: The term cancer refers not just to one illness but to a number of disorders that affect plants and animals as well as people. These disorders show the common feature of the development of abnormally changed cells that reproduce rapidly and rob the body of its nutrients.
Psychological Consequences of Stress
There are psychological consequences when stress-related problems affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing causing people to experience too much stress and dissatisfaction at work. If the situation is not regular, up and downs are existing and the job provides no variety, significance, autonomy, feedback, identity, prestige, and recognition several psychological symptoms may arise:
Sleep Disturbance: The tensions of unresolved stress frequently cause insomnia, perspiring, generally keeping the stressed person awake or causing the person to suddenly wake up in the middle of the night or early morning. Evidence suggests that stress may cause people to sleep too much or not enough.
Sexual and Reproductive Dysfunction: Stress can lead to diminished sexual desire. Stress can lead to an inability to achieve orgasm in women, while it may cause temporary impotence in men.
Memory, Concentration, and Learning Defects: Stress has significant effects on the function of the brain, particularly on memory. Studies indicate that the immediate effect of acute stress impairs short-term memory, particularly verbal memory. Memory lapses, difficulty in attention, and decision making, etc. are often seen.
Emotion Related Problems: Diffuse pain, tension, irritability, boredom, nervousness, anxiety, depression, frequent mood change, emotional instability, lowered self-esteem, etc. are primarily evident. The disorder may range from panic disorder, survivor syndrome, and depressive disorders. In panic disorder, the individual may suddenly experience fear or intense dissatisfaction. Survivor syndrome affects the mental health of employees, may develop suspiciousness, distress, hopelessness, tiredness, and demotivation toward the organization. Depressive disorder is generally characterized by a sense of inadequacy, decrease in reactivity, pessimism, and related symptoms.
Stress can have even more direct consequences for organizations, and their employees which include poor job performance, withdrawal, negative changes in attitudes, and job burnout.
Performance: Stress results in a decline in performance, such as poor quality work, or a drop in productivity. A manager suffering from stress may make a faulty decision and disrupts working relationships with employees, causing difficulties within the organization. The manager in this state may also be hard to get along with.
Withdrawal: Stress results in employees displaying withdrawal behavior within the organization. The two most significant forms of withdrawal are absenteeism and quitting. Stress can also result in ignoring, neglecting, and remaining passive while on the job. For example, a stressed manager starts missing deadlines or taking longer lunch breaks.
Attitudes: Another direct organizational consequence of employee stress is related to the employee’s attitude. It affects job satisfaction, morale, organizational commitment, cooperation, and motivation to perform at high levels. A negative attitude toward work brings a habit to complain about unimportant things, useless gossiping, harassing, gender discrimination, and so forth.
Job Burn Out: Job burnout refers to the process of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment resulting from prolonged exposure to stress. People who have high motivation and aspiration levels often face excessive demands while interacting with others e.g. nurses, teachers, police officers, or others in helping professions. Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishments are usually referred to in job burnout.
- Emotional exhaustion is a commonly used term in job burn out which refers to the lack of energy, and reduced emotional resources. The individual feels that he is no longer able to care for and support the needs of the clients.
- The term depersonalization refers to a sense of detachment the professional feels towards his or her clients. Depersonalization is also a form of emotional exhaustion, as the professional treat others as objects rather than people.
- Reduced personal accomplishment refers to a feeling of diminished competency, confidence, and success. The employee’s efficiency decreases and a sense of helplessness and listlessness increases during the stressful period.
The behavioral consequences of stress may lead the person to distress. Research has clearly documented that people who smoke tend to smoke, consume alcohol, and use drugs more when they experience stress. A person under stress shows unusual behavior and functions differently than in a normal situation.
Other possible behavioral consequences of stress are accident proneness, eating problems, and violence.
Eating Problems: Stress can have varying effects on eating habits and cause weight fluctuations.
- Weight Gain – Often stress is related to weight gain and obesity. Many people develop cravings for salt, fat, and sugar to counteract tension, and while fulfilling their carvings, people gain weight. Weight gain can occur while consuming a healthy diet when some people are exposed to stress.
- Weight Loss – Some people suffer a loss of appetite and lose weight due to stress. In rare cases, stress may trigger hyperactivity of the thyroid gland, stimulating appetite but causing the body to burn up calories at a faster rate than at the normal rate.
- Eating Disorders – Chronically elevated levels of stress chemicals have been detected in patients with Anorexia and Bulimia. Anorexia is a life-threatening eating disorder in which fear of becoming fat leads to self-starvation and weight loss. In Bulimia nervosa, the person consumes a large amount of food and empties the stomach usually by vomiting.
Other Disorders: Absenteeism, tardiness, rapid speech, fidgeting, accidents, employee turnover, aggressiveness, hostility, and so on are seen as the other behavioral problems. Defensive behavior, taking time to finish the job, or transferring the responsibility to someone else is common. The individual exhibits dysfunctional behavior usually reacting by impaired abnormal functioning in a lower level performance than the individual is ordinarily capable of accomplishing are evident. It may extend to different overt behavior and facial expressions e.g. tics and twitches, profound grimacing, and biting the lips. Frequent spitting, shaking off one’s fits are also seen in athletes.