Stress-related disorders

Stressed man
Although there is no inherent pathology associated with the stress response, stress presents a generalized health risk factor and is implicated in a wide range of medical, psychological and behavioral disorders.


Early warning signs, symptoms and asymptomatic risk factors can lead to frank and serious strain. Stress-related disorders fall into three broad categories: medical, psychological and behavioral. Because stress is a generalized, systemic response of the mind-body, it is not easy to predict which category of stress-related disorder a specific may manifest.

Medical strain. Stress is implicated in or a direct contributing factor to at least five common and sometimes serious forms of medical strain.

Medical strain and symptoms arising from stress

  • Cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, elevated heart rate and blood pressure; increased risk of heart attack during extreme stress; type A. (coronary-prone) behavior creates self-induced stress.
  • Back pain triggers a bracing response in the large muscles, causing contraction and tension, particularly in the muscles of the back, abdomen and upper thighs.
  • Tension headaches may be of musculoskeletal origin from the contraction of the large muscles in the upper back, shoulders, neck and scalp.
  • Cancer is indirectly influenced by stress; there may be predisposition to possible malignancy because of lowered immunity; stress can inhibit the curative process.
  • Stress is thought to be a factor in irritable bowel syndrome and is possibly implicated in peptic disease.

While these medical conditions may have other primary or secondary causes, each may have a stress-related component.

Psychological strain. Psychology plays a central role in the stress process, and physicians should consider partnering with mental health professionals whenever stress-related problems of a more serious nature are suspected. Stressful events, chronic stress and trauma are all important health risks for psychological strain.

Psychological strain and symptoms arising from stress.

  • Varying degrees of depression.
  • Burnout from chronic stress and prolonged striving can lead to emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment.
  • Anxiety disorders may develop, including acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Conversion reactions can trigger psychogenic conditions, such as acute blindness and hard or arm paralysis.
  • Work-family stress may trigger interpersonal conflicts, physical abuse or sexual dysfunction.

Behavioral strain. Behavioral forms of strain are most often dysfunctional attempts to cope with stress and trauma.

Behavioral forms of strain

  • Substance abuse; tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
  • Violence, manslaughter and suicide.
  • Increased susceptibility to accidents.
  • Prolonged recovery times from accidents and injuries.
  • Eating disorders; overeating leads to obesity, with its associated cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems; under eating may result from loss of appetite, which is often associated with depression.   
Also read Ten steps to staying healthy in times high stress
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