Worried Sick

The amount of times that I use the word “stressed” in a day is concerning. From the daily routine of schoolwork, housework, errands, and everyday obligations, it seems that I’m rarely not feeling stressed. Stress is defined as “a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being” (Coutts, Gruman, Schneider, 2012, 183). The commentary described it well when stated that in modern life, the stressful situations that we face cannot be helped by our stress responses as they were by our ancestors, who used stress response as a survival tactic.

There is extensive damage that can occur from prolonged periods of feeling stressed. When one experiences chronic stress, it can start to interfere with the mind and body. For example, you may feel fatigued, unable to concentrate or irritable without reason. Chronic stress can also make existing problems worse, which then may lead to bad habits such as smoking, over eating, and excessive drinking as ways to cope with the stress (American Psychological Association, 2018).

I can personally attest to the negative consequences of chronic stress in my own life. A few years ago, my husband went on deployment and my body decided to start shutting down, due to the stress and worry that I was experiencing. I was unable to work and doctors could not pinpoint the problem through extensive testing, however, after a month of rest and towards the end of my husband’s deployment, I started to re-gain my energy. I literally stressed myself sick and needed to let my body get back to its normal functioning.

Harvard Business Review, describes how high pressure and anxiety at work may be one of the leading causes of stress in a person’s life. As previously discussed, studies show that the brain and body have difficulty differentiating between stress caused by real danger, such as a house fire and perceived danger, such as a boss with too many demands (Harvard Business Review, 2017). Therefore, it is crucial to help the body differentiate between the perceived danger and the real danger, by being aware of our bodies physical and mental symptoms.

Health psychologists are focused on problem-focused efforts, where one works to change the stressor itself, and emotion-focused efforts, where one tries to regulate emotions to minimize the distress. As stress and coping are a major focus in health psychology, it is important that we, as a whole, start to recognize the signs that our bodies are giving us and work to pinpoint the underlying issues caused by stressful situations in our lives. Whether it is documenting where you’re at or what your surroundings are when you’re feeling intense feelings of stress or simply taking time out of your day to do something you enjoy.


American Psychological Association (2018). How stress affects your health. APA.  Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx

Nelson, A (2018). Penn State World Campus. PSCH424 Applied Social Psychology. Lesson 5: Health AND Clinical/Counseling.Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1942493/modules/items/25002500

Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., Coutts, L.M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Walsh, Regan (2017, November 01). What to do when work stress (literally) makes you sick. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/11/what-to-do-when-work-stress-literally-makes-you-sick

1 comment

  1. It’s amazing how much are bodies protest to prolonged periods of stress. I have experienced similar physical symptoms from prolonged stress. Our bodies have a built in “fight or flight” response where our hormone production rates increase significantly in order to prepare us to flee or stand our ground. During this response in our bodies, our heart rates increase, breathing rates increase and blood pressure rises and muscle tighten. In our modern day lives, these stress hormones are never able to fully leave our systems. We live in a world where stress lasts all day long for days at a time. The Salleh (2008) article reminds us that everyone experiences stress differently. Depending on genetics, environmental factors, coping skills and personality, individuals can react to stress in different ways. Salleh (2008) also notes that not all stress is bad, some stress can boost the immune system, however, chronic stress is linked to severe deficiencies in immune system functioning, often resulting in illness.
    Learning coping skills can be a great way to combat some of the physical symptoms and manifestations of stress. For example, the Thorn et al. (2007) study learned that teaching individuals to change thought patterns helped them with chronic headaches. Using cognitive behavioral treatment, patients learned to avoid catastrophizing about their headache pain.
    Another effective treatment that has been documented is mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) exercises. Individuals have seen significant improvement in daily functioning using MBSR. MBSR was originally developed to assist individuals in learning mindfulness and stress reduction training. The program was also intended to be widely versatile in a variety of environments were stress, illness and health were major concerns (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). As data pools continue to grow and new methods are added, stress levels and therefore illness should begin to decline in the general population.


    Kabat-Zinn, J. (1982). An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results. General Hospital Psychiatry, 4(1), 33–47.

    Salleh, M. R. (2008). Life Event, Stress and Illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18.

    Thorn, B.E., Pence, L.B., et al. (2007). “A randomized clinical trial of targeted cognitive behavioral treatment to reduce catastrophizing in chronic headache sufferers.” Journal of Pain 8 , 938-949.

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