Physical and mental health: what are stress-related problems?

Stress, especially when prolonged over time, can lead to many health problems, from the simplest to the most serious, because it alters the immune system: skin diseases, dry mouth and memory lapses, and, in the most severe cases, even heart problems



People who are very stressed not only do not remember to drink, because they are totally absorbed in their work at the computer, but they often have a feeling of dry mouth, especially in the morning.

The activity of the salivary glands is also regulated by the autonomic nervous system.

Dry’ oral mucous membranes signal an overactivity of the sympathetic system, which predominates over the vagal system (which is instead associated with relaxation).


Not only is there ‘stress acne’, linked to hormonal changes triggered by anxiety, but also psoriasis, for example, is aggravated during periods of high tension, whereas it visibly improves during summer holidays.

Like other inflammatory skin diseases, it is affected by stress-induced immunological disorders; stress is also associated with altered immunological control.


Forgetting one’s keys or where one has parked the car, yawning during a meeting, showing difficulty in paying attention indicate that one has reached a level of saturation such that one can no longer ‘keep up with everything’, typical of multitasking people who have a busy life.

These memory gaps are due to the fact that under stress, the frontal lobe of the brain, located in front of the cortex, functions differently: bombarded by so many stimuli, it ends up ‘selecting’ things to remember.


Prolonged states of tension and agitation are associated, by countless studies, with an increased risk of cardiovascular accidents, especially in people who are genetically predisposed and/or have an unhealthy lifestyle.

This is because stress causes an alteration in the autonomic nervous system, the system that controls the functioning of our organs, in particular the heart and blood pressure, leading to a rise in blood pressure itself, which can lead to hypertension (in predisposed individuals with other risk factors such as sedentariness and smoking), often left untreated because it is not treated properly. which is often not properly treated because it is asymptomatic.

Also acting on this system, stress promotes palpitations and tachycardia, arrhythmias, angina pectoris, ischaemic heart disease (including Tia, Transient Ischaemic Attack), myocardial infarction and stroke.


From a physiological point of view, it is very difficult to really have a measure of stress on an individual level.

Techniques such as measuring certain hormones like cortisol can give useful information.

On the other hand, techniques that can give us information about the autonomic nervous system can be useful to check the effects of stress and to observe improvements induced by stress management techniques such as relaxation, Mindfulness, or adopting a more active lifestyle.

These techniques (Neurophysiological test for the study of the autonomic nervous system) are very simple and can give useful information on the functioning of the autonomic nervous system as a whole, obviously also considering the person’s characteristics and pathologies.


Under stress you always lose weight

FALSE. Cortisol, the stress hormone, causes blood sugar to spike and increases the liver’s gluconeogenesis (i.e. its production of glucose).

This leads to hyperinsulinaemia, with increased appetite and increased fat storage as an energy reserve.

Conversely, it increases protein catabolism.

Result? More ‘flab’ and less muscle mass. In addition, cortisol causes swelling from water retention.

It should also not be forgotten that under stressful conditions many people eat more or eat differently, preferring carbohydrates and fats.

Some people, on the other hand, may eat less, in which case they lose weight and, unfortunately, often also muscle, damaging the body.

Occupational stress is nobody’s fault

FALSE. Implementing European legislation since January 2011, it is also mandatory in Italy for companies to make an assessment of so-called work-related stress.

The focus is on health risks, emerging symptoms and psychological distress manifested by the employee.

(National Association of Occupational Safety Trainers: 800.58.92.56).

However, it is important to remember that ‘personal’ stress factors can also reduce work performance.

It therefore becomes important, especially when it is not possible to eliminate the cause of stress, to work on ensuring that the person has all the necessary resources to be able to manage stress

Chamomile helps you sleep

FALSE. Some plants, such as valerian, passion flower, lemon balm, boast some hypnoinductive properties that are more pronounced than chamomile.

However, it must be said that in the case of real problems falling asleep, it is always best to ask a sleep specialist for effective advice based on scientific documentation.

Watching TV in bed promotes sleep

FALSE. TV and all digital devices should be left out of the bedroom, which is the room created for sleeping.

The blue light emitted by TV screens and digital devices, in fact, inhibits the production of melatonin.

That is, the hormone that helps you fall asleep.

In addition, keeping your attention high in order to use them requires activation of the autonomic nervous system, which can counteract falling asleep.

Stress affects the immune system

TRUE. There is much scientific evidence showing that stress is also capable of altering immune responses in a very complex way.

In fact, during periods of chronic stress it may be easier to contract certain infectious diseases (suggesting a reduced immune response), than to have manifestations of autoimmune-type diseases in predisposed individuals (suggesting an increased response).

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