Stress poses a significant public health problem. Though work is often cited as a primary cause of stress, in 2022, socioeconomic issues contributed to a spike in stress levels, which serves as proof that there’s no shortage of potential stressors.
According to the Stress in America Survey 2022 from the American Psychological Association, 81% of respondents indicated they were stressed out due to issues affecting the supply chain. Inflation proved even more troubling, as 87% of participants in the survey indicated they were stressed out by the rising cost of living. That’s especially noteworthy, as it marked a nearly 30% increase from the previous year.
Stress is more than an inconvenience. Though the APA notes the human body is well-equipped to handle stress in small doses, chronic stress poses an entirely different problem, affecting various parts of the body.
The APA reports that muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress. However, muscle tension for long periods of time can trigger a host of problems, including tension-type headaches and migraine headaches, which are each associated with chronic muscle tension in the shoulders, neck, and head. The APA notes that work-related stress in particular has been linked to musculoskeletal pain in the lower back and upper extremities.
Stress can present problems affecting the respiratory system as well. Shortness of breath and rapid breathing can occur when a person is feeling stress. Though the APA acknowledges this is often not a problem for people without respiratory disease, the group notes it can exacerbate breathing problems for people with preexisting respiratory conditions, including asthma and COPD.
Chronic stress can contribute to long-term problems affecting the heart and blood vessels, which the APA notes are the two elements of the cardiovascular system that work together to provide nourishment and oxygen to the body’s organs. Chronic stress has many hallmarks, including a consistent and ongoing spike in heart rate. As a result, long-term ongoing stress increases a person’s risk for an assortment of cardiovascular problems, including hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
The APA notes that hundreds of millions of neurons in the gut are in constant communication with the brain. This is why feelings of nervousness or anxiety often produce the sensation of butterflies in the stomach. When a person is dealing with chronic stress, it can affect communication between the gut and brain, potentially leading to pain, bloating, and other discomfort in the gut.
Stress is a public health problem that affects people from all walks of life. Individuals feeling excess levels of stress are urged to speak to their physicians and visit apa.org for more information.