Overview of Negative Effects of Stress

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  • Santelices, Marian R.

There are negative effects of stress in the emotional, mental, and physical state


“Chronic stress floods the brain with powerful hormones that are meant for short-term emergency situations. Chronic exposure can damage, shrink, and kill brain cells (Wallenstein, 2003).”

Stress can affect an individual’s health leading to an array of diseases that affects the mental, emotional and physical well-being of an individual and can result to emotional, mental, and physical illnesses.


Negative effects of stress in the emotional state

Emotion and motivation are often tied with each other. Our actions are often motivated with emotions. Emotions are made up of four integral components: physiological arousal, cognitive processes, behavioral reactions, and affect. In Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel, it is said that there are eight primary human emotions that are made up of four pairs of opposites: acceptance and disgust, fear and anger, surprise and anticipation, sadness and joy. According to the James-Lange theory, physiological responses are triggered by the environmental stimuli from the viscera and muscle movements. Recent evidence has shown that emotions are almost the same but not alike with physiological changes. Yet, there is a little evidence showing that people can determine patterns of muscular and physiological stress. The Schachter-Singer theory is the combination of both James-Lange and Cannon-Bard theories. According to Schachter-Singer theory, there is a double cognitive interpretation where emotions rely: Appraisal of the emotion-causing event and evaluation of physiological process in our bodies. Solomon and Corbit’s opponent-process theory suggests that when an emotional balance is disrupted, an opponent-process activates to restore balance in one’s emotional state. Prolonged exposure to stimuli weakens the initial emotional reaction (Parker and Ettinger, 2010a).

Stress and emotion has a powerful relationship. According to Selye’s observation that if stress is not reduced, third state of exhaustion will be entered by organisms, showing signs of tear and wear, and prone to diseases. (Parker and Ettinger, 2010b).

Stress can lead to dysfunction. It may result in depression or anxiety. Feeling depressed is a common reaction towards stress. If these symptoms are temporary, it may be the reflection of the ups and downs in life. However, if stress is prolonged, it can lead to psychological problems. Physiological and psychological conditions when anxiety and stress is not treated early: phobias, anxiety disorder, amnesia, and multiple personality (Bressert, 2006).

The connection between mood and stress is complicated. Stress is linked with mood and health. People with low self-esteem and social relationship problems are prone to have an increase in somatic and psychological problems. Mood disturbance and illness is a result of people with low psychosocial support (DeLongis, Folkman, and Lazarus, 1988).

Negative effects of stress in the mental state

The University of California, Berkeley, researchers demonstrated that chronic stress produces changes in the brain that explains the reason why people experiencing chronic stress are likely to experience mental problems early in life such as mood disorders and anxiety. Doctors know that people with illnesses that are related to stress have brain abnormalities, including the differences between the amount of white matter and gray matter. Neurons which keep and process information and support cells is called Glia and is what gray matter is made up of. On the other hand, white matter is made up of axons that have network of fibers that interconnect neurons. The white fatty myelin sheath surrounding the axon is where white matter got its name. Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology, her colleagues, together with graduate students Aaron Freidman and Sundari Chetty, found out that chronic stress creates big number of myelin-producing cells and small number of neurons than normal. Excess myelin and white matter make changes to the communication and balance in the brain. (Chetty, Friedman, Lahn, Kirby, Mirescu, Guo,…and Kaufer, 2014).

Mental responses to stress include distractibility, unable to concentrate, depression, irritability, and anger (Parker and Ettinger, 2010c).

Negative effects of stress in the physical state

Research established that stress leads to health disorders including traumatic events. The impacts of trauma in the psychological are long term and immune for treatments. The psychological impact of trauma leads to physical illness. The physiological arousal triggers the disabling of functioning. In consequence, an individual cannot return to baseline activities such as occupational and social functioning. Trauma can damage one’s physical and psychological functioning (Andrea, Sharma, Zelechoski, and Spinazzola, 2011).

Response of an individual towards stress may contribute to coronary heart disease. Type A people especially those with aggressive or hostile personality are prone to coronary heart disease that Type B people, who are easygoing, not driven to achieve perfection and are more relaxed. People with Type A behavior are prone to develop hypertension (Parker and Ettinger, 2010d).

There are negative effects of stress in the emotional, mental, and physical state


Prolonged exposure to stress can affect an individual’s health, leading to an array of diseases that affects the cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of an individual, such as, coronary heart disease, depression, moodiness, memory problems and

Especially affected is our brain, the hippocampus, which regulates our memory and emotions and how it plays in various emotional disorders with long-lasting changes in brain structure, that are unraveled by researchers.


Parker, M., & Ettinger, R.H. (2010). Understanding Psychology (3rd ed.). 410 Hemsted Dr, Redding, CA 96002, United States. BVT Publishing

DeLongis, A., Folkman, S., Lazarus, R.S.(1988). The impact of stress on health and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators. Journal of personality and psychology, Vol. 54(3), 486-495, Retrieved from http://www.apa.org

Chetty, S., Friedman, A.R., Taravosh-Lahn, K., Kirby, E.D., Mirescu, C., Guo, F.,…Kaufer, D.(2014). Stress and glucocorticoids promote oligodendrogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Molecular Psychiatry 19, 1275-1283. DOI:10.1038/mp.2013.190

Physical Health Problems After SingleTrauma Exposure: When Stress Takes Root in the Body

Wendy D’Andrea1, Ritu Sharma2, Amanda D. Zelechoski3, andJoseph Spinazzola4

Andrea, W.D., Sharma, R., Zelechoski, A.D., Spinazzola, J.(2011). Physical Health Problems After SingleTrauma Exposure: When Stress Takes Root in the Body. Journal of the American PsychiatricNurses Association 17(6) 378–392. DOI: 10.1177/1078390311425187

Bressert, S. (2006). The Impact of Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-impact-of-stress/000104

Wallenstein, Gene. 2003. Mind, Stress, and Emotion: The New Science of Mood. Boston, MA: Commonwealth Press.

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