Stress and Health

It probably comes as no surprise to you that your levels of stress directly affect your health.  Many of us have experienced this, for instance how our nervousness before an interview, or an exam, affects our digestion; worrying about things at night stops us from sleeping; how being stressed is tiring and exhausting; how it can make our skin break out or produces rashes; how it increases asthma attacks.  We know the toll that stress can take on our mental health, our levels of frustration and tolerance; how it can make us less enjoyable to be with and affect our relationships, our parenting and productivity.  The list is virtually endless.

What may surprise you is how much research there is that backs up exactly these experiences and explains why it is that stress has such a profound effect on our health – even being a factor in a range of serious diseases including cardiovascular issues, chronic pain, epilepsy, autoimmune diseases and it even affects our ageing processes1 2.

In this article, I’m going to explain some of the mechanisms behind how stress works, how it affects your health and what you can do to change how it impacts you.


What is stress and why is it such a problem?

Firstly, we need to define what we mean by stress.  There are two main definitions – the correct one, which most people don’t use, is ‘anything that disrupts the balance within the body systems which it has to make a response to’. At this level, it includes absolutely everything the body has to deal with whether it’s bad food you’ve eaten, a case of sunburn, sitting for too long in a bad chair or mental stress.  You can think of it as a bridge that has to carry vehicles across a deep valley.  The amount of load on that bridge over time; the weight of the trucks; the amount of traffic; the strength of the wind buffeting the bridge etc. are all factors that will affect the bridge’s ability to safely carry traffic across the valley.

The second definition, which is more common, is dealing with overwhelming or upsetting thoughts or emotions. Both of these definitions are really useful the first one includes a sense that there are many factors that can set us up to feel the effects of stress, while the second identifies the mental aspects of stress which for many people are the most difficult to deal with.  If we have an uncomfortable chair that we’re sitting in it’s quite easy to move around or get a new one; if we ate some bad food or have sat in the sun for too long we know what to do to resolve it.  But very often we don’t know what is causing our mental stress or have effective ways to reduce it.  As a result mental stress is often a factor that continues to chip away at our wellbeing sometimes without us knowing it.  Other times we know we are mentally stressed but have no idea how to solve it.


What does stress do to your body?

Interestingly, short-term stress is not that bad for us.  In fact, research suggests it’s a good thing for our bodies3.  It gets us to learn new things, grow and respond to new challenges.  The real problem is when stress is long-term, or as it is technically called ‘chronic’.  This is when stress doesn’t go away.  The stress response is the body-wide response that prepares us for dealing with threats.  In the past, this might have been a wild animal, or an opponent we needed to escape from.  So the stress response channels body supplies into the muscles so that we could run fast or fight hard.  This is why it’s called the flight and fight response.

The problem is that short-term stress gets the heart to pump faster and release fuel stores to power the energy-hungry muscles, it uses up energy very quickly.  The energy required for the stress response is diverted from important body systems including digestion, some brain areas and the immune system.  The immune system is the part of us that protects us from illness and monitors the health of every individual cell4.  So when these core systems are running at reduced capacity, as a result of all their energy being diverted to the stress response, trouble occurs.


What can we do to reduce stress?

The great news is, that there are so many ways to reduce stress which are easy to access.  Simply breathing in a slow calm way will help, as will attending yoga classes or exercising, and so on.

However, sometimes you’ll need a more focused approach to help you.  There are a range of audios that you can get hold of that will take you through effective processes to help you relax, calm down and resolve your stress5–7.

Sometimes you may need to seek professional help so you can learn invaluable skills to resolve your current stress and ensure you respond to challenging events in a new way, to avoid serious stress and its effects in your future.

I hope that you found this useful, if you have any questions or would like help finding the best resources for you then please get in touch.




The Lightning Process is a great approach for chronic health conditions – you can find more information about it here…

You can start the Lightning Process straight away by working through the first stage, an interactive audio programme – you can find more information about what it covers and how that will help you on your journey to health here:



  1. Ditto B, Eclache M, Goldman N. Short-term autonomic and cardiovascular effects of mindfulness body scan meditation. Ann Behav Med. 2006;32(3):227-234. doi:10.1207/s15324796abm3203_9
  2. Kahana E, Kelley-Moore J, Kahana B. Proactive Aging: A Longitudinal Study of Stress, Resources, Agency and Well-being in Late Life. Aging Ment Health. 2012;16(4):10.1080/13607863.2011.644519. doi:10.1080/13607863.2011.644519
  3. Dhabhar FS. The Short-Term Stress Response – Mother Nature’s Mechanism for Enhancing Protection and Performance Under Conditions of Threat, Challenge, and Opportunity. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018;49:175-192. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004
  4. Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601-630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
  5. Chen SF, Wang HH, Yang HY, Chung UL. Effect of Relaxation With Guided Imagery on The Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2015;17(11). doi:10.5812/ircmj.31277
  6. Ochiai H, Song C, Jo H, Oishi M, Imai M, Miyazaki Y. Relaxing Effect Induced by Forest Sound in Patients with Gambling Disorder. Sustainability. 2020;12(15):5969. doi:10.3390/su12155969
  7. Lane JD, Kasian SJ, Owens JE, Marsh GR. Binaural Auditory Beats Affect Vigilance Performance and Mood. Physiol Behav. 1998;63(2):249-252. doi:10.1016/S0031-9384(97)00436-8