Stress affects our bodies and our health in thousands of ways—seen and unseen. Its effects on your everyday well-being may seem obvious, but stress actually influences your body in countless ways you may not be aware of –from your organs to your cells right down to your genes. Today, we will focus on the consequences of stress for your daily health.
- First, stress affects how you feel. Aside from feeling moody, irritable, and impatient, you’re emotionally and physically wiped. You reach for stimulants like coffee or energy drinks, because just can’t function without them. You’re dealing with the stress hormone cortisol and the huge drain it has on your adrenals (the glands on top of your kidneys). Your overall reserves deplete. As your adrenals deplete, your blood pressure drops, leaving you weak and dizzy. And the more you internalize stress, the more likely you are to develop anxiety and depression—in fact, 50% of depression patients have elevated cortisol levels.
- Stress weakens your immune system, making you much more likely to catch the latest bug going around. You’re catching everything and healing slowly. Your risk for cancer even goes up.
- Stress leads to weight gain; high cortisol makes you crave fat and carbs, and your blood sugar levels spiral out of control. Next, your thyroid function slows down—taking your metabolism with it. Ever wondered why you tend to pack on pounds around your midsection? The one area that you just can’t seem to get rid of, no matter what diet you’re on? Thank your stress for that. It’s a big sign cortisol has been doing some overtime in your body, and if you push through and ignore your stress, diabetes isn’t far off.
- High cortisol causes insomnia: it takes longer to fall asleep, and you wake frequently during the night, as the stress hormone disrupts your normal sleep patterns.
- Stress can cause poor digestion. When left to fester, stress can create tremendous discomfort for the digestive system, sometimes leading in turn to IBS and ulcers.
- Sex drive plunges and fertility decreases. Stress hormones can inhibit the release of sex hormones, making you less interested in sex. In men, high cortisol can decrease testosterone and sperm count. In women, stress affects the hormones that regulate ovulation and the menstrual cycle. And if you’re trying to conceive, your chances are much lower if your body is under great stress.
- Your memory worsens. Stress tanks your concentration, focus, and ability to think clearly. It also makes it more difficult to make important decisions. Having too much cortisol causes cognitive impairment, brain fog, and neurodegeneration, and—most frighteningly—it is associated with a future risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Lena Johansson, from the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the Gothenburg University in Mölndal, Sweden, has been studying the effects of stress on the human body. Her findings are shocking. The study followed 800 women over nearly four decades and noted additional stressors, such as divorce, widowhood, or a relative’s illness. With each additional stressor, the risk of Alzheimer’s increased by about 20%.
- Stress ages you drastically and shortens your lifespan. Studies consistently suggest that the damaging effects of stress on our longevity are clear. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered that blood cells from women who had spent many years caring for a disabled child were, genetically, about a decade older than those from peers without this stressful experience. The same study also suggests that stress can add years to a person’s biological age. Telomeres, the end part of our chromosomes (which protect our DNA), get shorter and shorter under stress—a symptom normally seen in aging.
- Stress increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. According to a 2012 study of over 22,000 women, those under high amounts of stress at work were 40 times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than women who reported low levels of job-related stress. Men who don’t address their stress are prone to headaches and stiff and achy muscles; if they don’t take care of the problem, they can develop high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms… ideal conditions for a heart attack.
It’s safe to stay that if there’s a time to stop letting stress live for you and start living yourself, it’s now! Luckily, a few straightforward lifestyle and mindset changes are all it takes for you to cross over to top health.
Top Three Remedies for Managing Stress:
1. Identify the sources of your stress. Develop strategies for approaching and eliminating them.
2. Shift your mindset. Most of the stress you’re experiencing is all in your mind—you’re worrying about things that haven’t happened, or putting too much importance on minor things that go wrong. Learning coping techniques can help you lower all this subjective stress and realize that many stressors are in fact “no big deal.”
3. Redesign your lifestyle. Adjust your priorities from an endless to-do list to specific items for self-care. Get plenty of rest, get enough sleep, eat healthier, exercise, meditate… There is so much you can do to help yourself live a much happier, more fulfilling, and stress-free life.
Stress is serious. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do about it…
P.S. I would love to hear your story how stress has affected YOUR health. Please, share in the comments below!
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