Many people believe that stress is only detrimental to mental health, but the truth is that stress affects the entire body’s ability to function properly. It can cause a wide variety of symptoms, from upset stomach to back pain. Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience persistent flashbacks of traumatic events, creating high levels of mental and physical stress.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that is characterized primarily by persistent re-experiencing of a traumatic event through flashbacks, hallucinations or nightmares. This event may include a near death situation, military combat, a natural disaster or the experiencing of a crime.
Those going through this re-experiencing of events often avoid situations that may be a reminder or trigger for a flashback. They become hyper-aroused, which can lead to sleep deprivation, poor concentration or irritability. Those with PTSD experience these symptoms for more than one month following the traumatic event. PTSD is a serious condition that causes significant distress and impairment.
Effects on Physical Health
According to a 2005 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 90% of illness can be related to stress. These illnesses may affect any or all systems of the body. Studies show that chronic stress decreases the efficiency of the immune system, thus increasing susceptibility to infection. It also contributes to the development of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Another factor that may lead to health problems is the frequent coexistence of addiction with PTSD. Those suffering from this disorder frequently self-medicate with drugs or alcohol and become addicted. This may lead to a wide variety of problems with physical health. If they are addicted to alcohol, there will be increased stress on the liver and digestive systems. Coexisting diagnoses of PTSD and addiction are exponentially dangerous and they can be highly detrimental to physical health.
Coping with Stress
There are several stress reduction strategies that can be utilized to minimize stress and therefore minimize the possibility of stress-related physical health problems. For those with PTSD, therapy is necessary to treat the root of the problem. For daily stress, though, several methods can be applied for relaxation.
Meditation, exercise and a healthy diet not only reduce mental stress but are also beneficial to overall physical health. Exercise boosts the immune system and also releases certain hormones that elevate a person’s mood. Eating a healthy diet is essential to the reduction of both physical and psychological stress. By giving the body the nutrients it needs, it can more efficiently combat daily stressors.