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I recently spent a lot of time researching a post on stress and was alarmed to find out it is a hugely far-reaching problem that impacts many households. According to research, 8 million British people are suffering from stress, anxiety, and panic – and that number is rising by the year.

It’s also a lot more dangerous than I first thought, and there is a broad range of incredibly severe conditions and problems it can cause, both in physical terms and its effect on the average family life.

With this in mind, I thought I would go through some of the impacts stress can have on people, and why, if you are feeling stressed out or anxious, it’s vital to pay a visit to your doctor sooner rather than later. Let’s take a close look at all the effects of stress you need to watch out for.

Depression and psychological problems

Stress can often lead to depression, and while the two conditions are certainly linked, there are some fundamental differences. Stress is the feeling that you are under a lot of mental and emotional pressure, and once you have sorted out a particular problem it can often dissipate. Depression, however, can last years, hit you from nowhere, and can occur even when life seems OK.  While some stress is unavoidable in life, once you reach a severe or chronic level it can quite quickly turn into depression, which can then lead to long-term problems, suicidal thoughts, and an incredibly debilitating experience. If you are feeling stressed, it is essential that you get help sooner rather than later, as the switch to depression can happen all too quickly.

Immune system

Stress also weakens your immune system, which leaves you body in a state where it can’t fight of illnesses quite so well. You will find you pick up a lot of those niggly little colds and flu – and that they will last a longer time than usual. Many people who are stressed find themselves in a constant state of sickness, too, as they can’t shift minor illnesses and keep picking up new ones, purely down to the fact their immune system is not working properly. In the vast majority of cases, it’s irritation – most of us can get through life when suffering from colds and minor flu symptoms, however uncomfortable you might feel. However, in some cases, stress can actually lead to autoimmune diseases, which is a different kettle of fish altogether. Autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, celiac, or Hashimoto’s disease can cause huge problems on a permanent basis, and leave people needing treatment for the rest of their lives. If you think your current stress levels will go away by themselves eventually, don’t leave it too long – you are facing a lot more grave danger than you think.

Hair loss

Hair loss is not just a male problem. Over 6 million women in the UK suffer from hair loss at some point in their lives, and many of these cases are down to psychological problems – including stress. Scientists believe that the stress hormone cortisol is responsible for prematurely kicking out hairs from the head before they are naturally ready, and in cases of long-term stress, it can result in bald patches and extreme hair thinning. It can also be permanent in some cases – people who develop stress-related autoimmune conditions can lose their hair for good. There are solutions available, of course – from wigs to a hair transplant – but ultimately you need to deal with your stress before it becomes a problem. The impact it can have on your confidence is extreme, and while I’m all for embracing and celebrating different body shapes, the fact is that a lot of women would struggle if they lost their locks.

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Diabetes

Stress leads to high blood pressure and a high blood sugar level – the combination of which could see you develop a diabetic condition. While diabetes is eminently treatable these days, it’s important to remember that it is still incredibly dangerous, life-changing, and could be the death of you. You might end up having to inject yourself with insulin on a regular basis, and the lifestyle changes you will need to make will be extreme. Again, if you don’t want your stress levels to result in this serious condition, you need to make sure you get yourself treated by a doctor sooner rather than later.

Heart disease

When you feel stressed, it can cause enormous pressure on your chest and heart. In the short-term, it won’t cause much of a problem, but when your heart is under this constant stress for weeks or even months, it’s no surprise it can lead to a more severe condition. Your risk of heart attack increases when you are stressed, and it could result in everything from irregular heart beats to fully-blown cardiovascular disease. Studies show that there is a link between stress and how the way your blood clots, too, which can increase your chances of a clot entering the heart’s chambers and causing cardiac arrest.

Relationships

Of course, not all of the impacts of stress are physical – there is also the emotional impact it can have. When you are stressed, you are more likely to have arguments and fights with loved ones, lose your temper more often, and feel like disengaging from family life altogether. You will lose your sex drive, too. You will be completely exhausted by the symptoms of stress, unable to sleep, and incredibly emotional; none of which are ideal for improving – or even maintaining – your family relationships. It’s important that you are able to recognise your stress, talk about it, and deal with it, or you could end up causing lasting damage not just to yourself, but also your loved ones.

OK, so there you have it – a good look at the impacts stress can have on you if you leave it unchecked. While stress is part and parcel of life – who doesn’t get stressed when they move house, for example? – if it gets too much, you must seek out medical help. Not only does the condition lead to other psychological and relationship problems, but you could also end up with serious physical illness.