Thanks to a broadening pool of research, we have strong reason to believe that stress has a massive impact on every facet of our health and well-being. Where it was once believed that stress only worsened mental health, scientists are certain now that it also plays a significant role in our physical health as well. For this reason, finding ways to manage stress healthily is crucial. So crucial, in fact, that it may even be a matter of life and death for some people.
What Stress Does to the Body
Why is stress such a big deal, health-wise? It’s a fair question and answering it can help us understand why it’s so important to keep stressful feelings to an absolute minimum.
According to Mayo Clinic, when you get stressed out, your body treats the feeling as a perceived threat. In effect, it sets off an alarm system and releases a stream of hormones — notably adrenaline and cortisol — which speeds up your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and increases the sugars in your bloodstream. These responses can be detrimental to your health, and can lead to serious issues with the digestive system, immune system and brain.
Here are some specific ways these responses impact your body.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) — If you regularly experience digestive issues, you may be one of the many people who suffers from IBS, and it may be caused by stress. Though scientists aren’t totally sure why, we know that people who suffer from anxiety, which is closely linked with stress, are more likely to have IBS. Reducing stress and following an elimination diet, such as low-FODMAP meal delivery, is a great way to address the issue. What is FODMAP? Simply put, it’s one of the best diets for people with IBS because it focuses on one eliminating many of the most common triggers of IBS symptoms, helping you identify yours.
- Diabetes — As we already mentioned, stress can trigger a boost in blood sugar, which can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Luckily, many of the things you can do to decrease your diabetes risk also naturally help decrease your stress levels. Some examples include working out regularly and spending time outside, since vitamin D — provided naturally from the sun — can help you control blood sugar.
- Breakouts and Acne — There’s a reason why the calmest people always seem to have the calmest skin! When you’re stressed out, your skin experiences unnecessary side effects, including a boost in the production of oil in the sebaceous glands, which clogs your pores and causes acne. At the same time, when you’re feeling particularly stressed out, you don’t have as much time or energy for routine self-care, which can have a negative effect on your skin and your hygiene as a whole.
- Weight Gain — Unfortunately, one of the most common effects of excessive stress is weight gain. When we face tough stressors, our bodies release a stream of the hormone cortisol, which is closely linked with weight gain. That’s because the hormone causes glucose (sugar) to be released into the bloodstream, which in turn causes you to experience sugar cravings. At the same time, cortisol also has the ability to slow your metabolism, which can affect your ability to lose weight. And, of course, when you’re not feeling your best, you’re a lot more likely to skip your workouts and eat junk food, which contributes to weight gain.
- Insomnia and Sleep Troubles — Most people who have experienced a tough week know that quality sleep is usually one of the first things to go. Racing hearts and racing minds keep you from getting the rest you need. And, as you know, getting little or poor sleep leads to a laundry list of troubles in the following days and weeks, including a lack of focus, irritability and the inability to control emotions, which can worsen stress and depression.
- Anxiety, Depression and Panic Attacks — When the body feels stressed and kicks the stress hormones into action, your brain processes the experience as anxiety, which can lead many people to panic attacks. Components like poor diet and sleep trouble are also closely linked to poor mental health, as they can cause feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Lower Sex Drive and Sexual Dysfunction — Although stress affects men and women differently, everyone may experience a dip in sex drive when they’re feeling overwhelmed with life. While short-term stress can temporarily raise a man’s testosterone levels, over time it causes them to drop, which can play a role in erectile dysfunction and impotence. Both men and women are at risk for losing their libido in the face of persistent stress because the body is putting so much energy towards its response to said stress, which leaves less room for other functions, like sex drive.
- Heart Disease and Stroke — We often hear jokes about how certain stressors are enough to give you a heart attack, but that may not just be a saying. When you first feel stress, your body responds by speeding up your heart rate and sending blood throughout the body. Unfortunately, for people who experience constant stress, that can have a dangerous impact on the cardiovascular system over time. It effectively causes your heart to work too hard, leading to higher blood pressure and a higher risk for heart attack or stroke.
As you can see, finding healthy ways to manage the stressors of daily life isn’t just a good idea for helping you feel better each day. It’s also crucial to living a long, healthy life. So consider taking a vacation, spending time with friends or getting lost in a good book because it’s good for your health!