Why Untreated Stress Is One Of The World’s Biggest Killers


Stress is arguably an indirect factor that contributes significantly to the total number of deaths occurring yearly worldwide. It is seen as an internal disturbance that disrupts the balance between biological, psychological and social well-being. Several medical conditions have been attributed to stress as a disease modifying factor. When this equilibrium in mental health is disrupted, several hormones and psychological response are stimulated as a checking mechanism but when this fails, the disturbance in psychological control negatively affects the individual and his/her interaction with the society.


Recently, a young entrepreneur in his mid-thirties collapsed suddenly during a board meeting and before the emergency service could arrive, he was already dead. Detailed review on his life showed recent divorce with his young wife with a kid, pressure from peers and co-workers because of his promotion to assistant executive director. This case scenario and other unexplained deaths from accidents, suicide and other medical conditions are directly related to stress.

It is worth mentioning that a certain degree of stress in our daily activities is necessary for the fight-flee response which allow the individual perform at full capacity whenever the need arises. Stress affects all age group and till date, no tool has been designed to effectively ascertain stress levels in humans. Factors like genetic, interpersonal skills, social interaction, family background, expectations and commitments contribute to how we manage stress levels independently.

With persistent stress levels, individuals develop several maladaptive ways of coping with stress. This can lead to substance and drug abuse, excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption, social withdrawal, anxiety related disorders and nervousness. All these maladaptive mechanisms accounts directly for the number of deaths caused by stress. Patients who cannot tolerate the high level of stress be it from peer pressure, school and occupational related stress, family disharmony etc. often contemplate suicide and are more likely to succeed. Substance and drug abuses, tobacco, alcohol consumption as a way of coping with stress increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, lung and kidney diseases, increase risk of road traffic and occupational accidents, death as a result of domestic violence by spouse using these substances to cope with stress. Most of the death occurring as a result of the aforementioned conditions can be linked directly or indirectly with stress.

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Studies carried out all over the world has linked stress as an underlying factor in six leading cause of death in humans and more than 60% of visits to the primary care physician is related to stress related medical conditions. It is related to hypertension, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancers, and lung diseases from tobacco related problems, cirrhosis of the liver from excessive alcohol and substance abuse and suicide. It also increases the frequency of asthma attacks, increases anger and anxiety level which contributes a great deal to accidents and unexplained death.

Stress negatively affect our health, but truth be told, most people experience varying degree of stress in their day to day activity. What is important is how we cope positively with this stress. It is paramount that one identifies the actual stressor/ source of the stimulants because that provides the basics of coping positively with stress. Always endeavor to talk with close friends, family members, mentors, coworkers, psychologist and psychiatrist if need be to prevent complications that arises from untreated stress.


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