We have mentioned this fact before: stress is the deadliest and most ubiquitous health epidemic in the world. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO), widely considered to be the most distinguished medical body on the planet, has labeled stress “The Health Epidemic of the 21st century.”
So why is stress so underestimated and misunderstood? In part, this is because stress is unavoidable. We biologically experience stress as a means of self-preservation, so we’ve just (sort of) accepted it.
Basically, we don’t think about stress much – it just kind of brews under the surface. We also tend to categorize stress and disease as two different things. They are not.
The fact is that chronic stress negatively impacts our health and well-being. Abnormal stress levels can cause diseases, illnesses, and sicknesses of both the physical and mental variety. While we may be able to keep the effects of stress at bay for a certain period, if we ignore the symptoms and fail to take care of the core problem, it will rear its ugly head at some point.
Here’s the Mayo Clinic on the relationship between stress and health:
Indeed, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior … Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Shanna Levine, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine at the prestigious Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, makes this observation:
“When people are stressed, they get sick … because the immune system can’t suppress the virus.”
Here are 5 Effects of Stress on Your Health
The mental, physical, and psychological effects of stress are thoroughly researched and documented, but have you ever wondered what being over-stressed actually does to your body and mind? Or considered the common risks that being over-stressed poses?
1. It’s more difficult to control emotions
A 2013 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that stress has a “deleterious” (toxic) effect on one’s ability to manage their emotions. Emotional regulation depends on “intact executive functioning and engagement of the prefrontal cortex.” These cognitive processes grow severely handicapped when we’re under heavy stress.
When we have problems managing emotions, both our cognitive skills and decision-making abilities are negatively impacted. This has a domino effect on every area of our lives – personally and professionally.
2. Your love life could take a hit
Pretty much everyone on the planet agrees that sex is a wonderful stress reliever. (Research backs this up, too!) However, stress – and particularly, performance anxiety – can lead to troubles between the sheets.
Studies have shown that higher-than-normal levels in men affect testosterone levels, body weight, and sexual desire. Women might also get less frisky when feeling the pressure.
3. You have a bigger sweet tooth
We can pretty much all sympathize with this one. Who hasn’t been frazzled only to beeline for the snacks? Your cravings are entirely normal, friend. Unfortunately, in this context, the word “normal” is not synonymous with healthy.
Per a University of Pennsylvania study, elevation of stress hormones links directly to our sugar cravings. The research team concludes, beyond a doubt, that stress hormones trigger those mid-day chocolate binges.
4. You may get a bit itchier
A Japanese study of 2,000 people reveals that those with a skin condition called pruritis (“chronic itch”) were twice as likely to be over-stressed compared to the control group.
We all know that irritated skin can induce stress. Now, Japanese scientists claim that itchy skin, along with specific conditions – dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis among them – are aggravated by feelings of anxiety and stress.
5. Your belly is more sensitive
Anxiety and stress can manifest all sorts of gut troubles, including stomachaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even ulcers. In one study, people “experiencing the highest levels of stress were more than three times as likely to have abdominal pain as their more-relaxed counterparts.”
In actuality, these findings regarding the effects of stress are not so surprising. The gut-brain relationship is well established. When we feel relaxed and carefree, our digestion kicks into gear. Feeling stressed or overwhelmed can stall our digestive processes. When this happens, we’ll sometimes get a bellyache or need to head to the toilet.
Limiting and Relieving Stress
The Mayo Clinic provides some quick tips on managing stress:
- Regular physical activity
- Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or massage
- Socializing wth friends and family
- Taking time for your hobbies
- Limiting or cutting out alcohol and tobacco use
Mindfulness and meditation are two proven stress relievers. One of the quickest and most effective ways to get your emotions under control is to pay conscious attention to your breath. For an entire minute, focus on inhaling and exhaling. Make sure to inhale deeply and slowly exhale, centering your self and inviting calm into your mind.
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The American Institute of Stress. (2017). Stress Effects. Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/