Causes and effects
Reviewed by our psychologist : Carlos Hoogenboom
Last update: 19 november 2021
Stress has a variety of causes. Often, it’s caused by intense or traumatic situations that have a profound impact on you. When stress is so severe that it takes a long time for the tension and pressure to subside, it’s good to know what caused it and what the associated consequences might be.
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Stress, Its Causes and Consequences
Causes of stress
The death of a loved one, an illness, or a new job are all common causes of stress. These are intense events that bring up a range of emotions. These causes are also known as stress triggers. How much of an effect stress has on you depends on the intensity of the stress trigger, but also on your personality and habits.
Factors that affect how you experience stress
- Character traits
- Perfectionism. You won’t settle for good if you can do better. As a result, you are (unconsciously) putting extra pressure on yourself.
- Determination. You’re good at motivating yourself and you’ll push yourself to get the job done.
- Loyalty. You want to do right by other people, have trouble setting boundaries, and often put yourself in second place.
- Supportive. You want to help everybody, which often means you forget to help yourself or ask for help.
- Sense of responsibility. You want to do a good job and have the sense that you’re responsible for this. As a result, you tend to take on too much.
- Empathetic. You’re good at putting yourself in another person’s shoes, which allows you to empathize with them.
- Sensitive. You are (highly) sensitive.
- Social support
You need someone you can count on in a stressful situation. It helps you cope with stress. Not being able to vent to a friend or your partner increases your level of stress.
- Genetic factors
Some people are more susceptible to stress because they’re born that way. Susceptibility to stress can be genetic: The person’s parents or grandparents probably also suffer from it. Genetic factors can cause the body to release stress hormones more slowly. The first years of a person’s life also play an important role here. In this sense, a person’s response to stress is related to the living conditions they were raised in.
Your lifestyle also effects the way you respond to stress. People who smoke, drink, eat unhealthily or too little, and sleep poorly are more susceptible to stress and often experience more symptoms.
Physical consequences of prolonged stress
The effect of stress on your body causes you to produce more stress hormones (such as cortisol). Your cortisol levels rise and this creates all kinds of discomfort, such as weight gain or weight loss, insomnia, and increased blood pressure. But it also disturbs your digestive system and immune system, causing you to produce fewer white blood cells, which are important for fighting off unwanted invaders, such as (viral) infections, bacteria, and fungi.
Reduced immune system
Stress disrupts your immune system. You are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and more likely to suffer from pains in your neck, back, shoulders, etc. Chronic stress is also connected to type 2 diabetes, allergies, and autoimmune diseases.
Reduced cognition caused by prolonged stress
Stress negatively affects various brain functions, such as memory and your ability to regulate your emotions.
A vicious cycle of stress in your brain
Stress begins in the hypothalamus where the stress hormone cortisol is produced. This then activates the hippocampus, which works to reduce this stress. When you have a lot of stress, your hippocampus becomes overloaded, which can then lead to memory loss. Your brain is then less able to regulate the amygdala. Once there’s nothing controlling the amygdala, a host of negative emotions are released, which creates new stress in the hypothalamus and the cycle starts all over again.
Example effect of stress on the brain
Imagine you’re in a room and in the corner there’s a belt on the floor. Do you feel stressed? Probably not because you can see from this distance that it’s a belt. As long as you don’t start asking yourself why there’s a belt on the floor, there’s nothing to really worry about. But if you saw the same belt lying on the ground during a moment of intense stress, you might get a shock and think it’s a snake. This is because you are more likely to perceive things as a threat during moments of stress.
Psychological consequences of prolonged stress
Stress intensifies your negative emotions, which paves the way to depression. Stress hormones also make you more alert. This may mean you’re more likely to get anxious. When this anxiety starts to increase, it’s possible to develop an anxiety disorder. The longer a stressful situation lasts, the more chance there is that it will result in burnout because your body simply can’t handle the stress anymore.
Help with your stress problem
Are you experiencing symptoms of stress and struggling to move past them? There are various treatment methods that can help you. Get your stress under control and make an appointment with one of our psychologists. They’ll teach you how to handle stressful situations, offering you tools to manage your stress.
Do you have any questions about stress and how to treat it? Then call us on +31 8513 08900.