Stress isn’t just something happening in your head – its effects affect almost every part of your body. Put simply, stress is how your body reacts to potential dangers. When your brain senses a threat, it instructs certain glands to release a flood of hormones – namely adrenaline and cortisol – that increase alertness, heart rate, blood flow to your muscles, and more.
Stress is not inherently bad or bad for you. It is a biological reaction designed to help us evade threats. In an ideal world, your body reacts to stress and then returns to its normal state. But in anything but the ideal world (for example, a world where work emails ring your phone until 10 p.m.), stress can become chronic rather than temporary. This is when it can start to have a negative impact on your health.
Chronic stress disrupts your sleep.
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2019 US Stress Survey, most Americans report having higher than normal stress levels. This can affect the quality of sleep.
“You can get into a vicious cycle,” Cindy Geyer, medical director of Canyon Ranch wellness center in Lenox, Massachusetts, told Insider. “If you are stressed and you cannot put aside your worries and anxieties, you will not be able to fall asleep, or you will wake up more, or you will watch the time in the middle of the night without succeeding in getting you back to sleep “.
A 2019 study showed that a single night of sleeplessness could lead to a 30% increase in stress levels, while a 2015 study, which followed women in their 50s over a nine-year period, found showed that those with the highest stress levels had poorer quality sleep and were more likely to report insomnia. Medical research shows that poor quality sleep is associated with all kinds of problems, from anxiety to depression.
Chronic sleep deprivation can increase your risk for heart problems, obesity, and diabetes – and it can limit your body’s ability to fight infections, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Stress causes you to make worse food choices.
“People who are stressed can use food for comfort,” Joel Kahn, clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine, told Insider. “You’re not going to snack on broccoli when you’re stressed. You usually go for a donut and chips instead.”
Although not everyone begins to eat under stress, stress causes most people to have a fight-or-flight response, which can release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which increases appetite. Persistent stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, according to Harvard Health Publishing. After a stressful event occurs, cortisol levels are believed to decrease.
A 2014 study found that girls ate more often than boys in response to stress. The American Psychological Association found that women are more likely than men to eat when stressed, with 31% of women reporting eating during stressful times compared to 21% of men.
Cindy Geyer also noted that stress can disrupt leptin and ghrelin – two hour if you are stressed, you may not feel like playing sports.
For some people, exercise can be a way to reduce stress because it stimulates endorphins and improves mood. Exercise can lower levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulate the production of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers for your brain.
A handful of studies have found a link between lower anxiety levels and short-duration aerobic exercise. A 2014 study found that people who exercised in middle and high school were less likely to be depressed or stressed out becoming young adults. Another 2018 study found that people who exercise were 17% less likely to experience depression.
Still, there is a lot of evidence that shows that a workout can make you feel good.
Stress can also take its toll on your hormones.
A 1999 study even found that 50% of women in high-stress jobs were likely to have short menstrual cycles of less than 24 days.
But women aren’t the only ones affected, and men can experience low sperm counts under chronic stress.
For both women and men, stress can trigger hormonal imbalance. “When patients come to me for a hormonal imbalance, the root cause is usually an excess of cortisol or stress hormone,” Dr. Jane Oh, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Illinois, told Health line .”
Stress can worsen skin problems – including acne.
Researchers have identified a number of conditions that are not necessarily caused by stress, but which can be made worse by it. This list includes acne, psoriasis, rosacea, alopecia, and eczema.
“It’s very common for people to have acne breakouts when they’re stressed,” dermatologist Marisa The increased level of cortisol can also break down collagen and decrease the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, said Marisa Grassick, adding that this loss of collagen and hyaluronic acid “can lead to fine lines and wrinkles over time,” and even premature aging of the skin.
When you’re stressed, research also shows that your skin may take longer than usual to heal wounds.
And that’s not good for your heart.
Joel Kahn told Insider that long-term stress can negatively affect the health of your heart, although it’s not yet clear why. It is not known whether it is stress itself that increases the risk of problems like heart disease, or if stress simply leads to habits that are not healthy for the heart, like smoking.
Experts still can’t say for sure whether stress independently affects the health of your heart, or if it’s the ways you cope with stress, whether it’s a poor diet or smoking, that may be causing a problem. cardiac. But the American Heart Association and the US National Library of Medicine both agree that stress management is good for the heart.
Some experts say it’s not yet clear whether stress increases the risk of catching a cold or other illness, but several studies support this idea. A 2015 study shows that 60 to 80% of doctor’s appointments are related to stress. A further study in 2015 showed that stress could cause fever. Stress has also been linked to the onset of allergies and asthma.
In a 2012 study, for example, 276 healthy adults were asked about the level of stress in their lives. They were then given nasal drops containing a live rhinovirus – a common cause of colds. Those who reported being stressed were twice as likely to get sick.