Nearly everyone experiences stress at some point in their life. In fact, in small amounts, stress can be quite healthy. However, large amounts of stress can leave a person feeling out of control and unstable. If this negative stress is constant and prolonged without relief, the body has no time to rest. This keeps your body in constant overdrive which can cause a variety of ailments both physical and mental.
1 Heart and Blood Flow
According to a study provided by the folks at livescience.com, people who have high stress jobs are 22 percent more likely to experience a stroke than those who have low stress jobs. They are also 58 percent more likely to have an ischemic stroke (the most common type of stroke), caused by lack of blood flow to the brain. Stressors also tend to lead to an elevated blood pressure, forcing the heart to work harder resulting in damaged arteries, plaque formation and heart disease. Stressors don’t even necessarily have to be prolonged to have a negative effect on us. Many studies have shown that sudden emotional stresses such as anger can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias and even sudden death.
2 Weight and Eating Disorders
Often, stress is related to weight gain and obesity. Many people overindulge in salt, fat, and sugar as a way to cope with the mounting stress. Work-related stress has been linked with a high body mass index and abnormal levels of fat in the blood. The opposite can also be true when it comes to eating disorders. There are those who have a diminished appetite as a result of high amounts of stress and therefore, lose too much weight. In some cases, weight gain and weight loss has nothing to do with diet and is simply a direct result of stress.
An article in the Scientific American states “It’s well established that stress can lead to obesity and diabetes”. Diabetes is often the result of obesity but in the case of constant increased stress, the body automatically increases the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood. One study from Tel Aviv University in Israel showed that workers in high stress environments were 1.8 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
4 Skin & Hair Issues
A study from the University of California showed that hormones triggered during stress can cause skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. There is also a link between stressed out individuals and unexplained itching. Prolonged or intense stress also contributes to the patchy hair loss condition called Alopecia areata.
A study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation shows that stress hormones such as adrenaline can support tumor growth. These stress hormones have been shown to accelerate the growth of precancerous cells and tumors. They also lower the body’s resistance to cancer-causing viruses.
6 Immune System
There are several studies that claim that people who are under chronic stress have low white blood cell counts effecting the immune system’s response to infections. Also, high levels of the major stress hormone, cortisol, depress the immune system.
7 Gastrointestinal Disorders
It is very well-known that prolonged stress has a negative effect on the digestive system. Diarrhea, constipation, cramping, bloating, excessive production of digestive acids in the stomach and irritable bowel syndrome are just some of the gastrointestinal disorders related to stress.
8 Exacerbation of Already Existing Ailments
Once you are sick, stress can make it difficult to recover. For example, a person with diabetes may not only have an impaired ability to manage the disease effectively but may also have exacerbated symptoms. Stress can also intensify the severity of chronic pain such as back pain and other conditions.
Headaches are highly associated with stress. Stressful events can cause headaches to occur more frequently and sometimes, the headache does not start until long after the stressful event has occurred.
Chronic stress may affect fertility for both men and women. Because stress hormones have an impact on the production of reproductive hormones, women’s menstrual cycles can become irregular and men’s sperm count could potentially reduce. There have also been links between stress and erectile dysfunction.
11 Sex Drive
Unfortunately, high amounts of stress can reduce sex drive in both men and women and make it difficult for women to achieve orgasm. If elevated levels of cortisol are being produced for a prolonged period of time due to high levels of stress, they suppress our sex hormones. Lower quantity of sex hormones equals lower libido.
Stress can have a big impact on the brain, particularly memory. Studies indicate that acute stress impairs short-term memory, especially verbal memory. If stress becomes chronic, there is often a loss of concentration making the sufferer both inefficient and accident-prone.
13 Mouth, Teeth & Gums
A less well-known fact about stress is that it has been linked to the increased risk for periodontal disease or gum disease. This in turn can lead to tooth loss. High stress levels can also trigger cold sore outbreaks (herpes simplex) and teeth grinding.
We have heard about insomnia due to stress all too often. An individual lay in bed, worrying about his/her perceived issue. Unresolved stress can prevent people from sleeping or can cause them to wake up in the middle of the night. Scientists say this could be due to the fact that stress causes physiological arousal during non-rapid eye movement sleep.
Chronic stressful life situations can increase the risk of developing depression if an individual isn’t coping with stress well. For some, it could even go as far as suicidal ideation.
16 Smoking/Substance Abuse
Studies show that populations that live in more stressful environments smoke, drink and participate in recreational drugs more heavily to “take the edge off”. Unfortunately, those who smoke also experience higher mortality rates from lung cancer and other pulmonary disorders. These communities experience things like higher divorce rates, business failures, and natural disasters.
17 Failure to Thrive
Those suffering from stress will sometimes neglect their own hygiene. Hair brushing, teeth brushing, showering, doing laundry or cleaning house are all activities that stressed out individuals may cut back on or even stop all together. Social interaction may also be impaired if the person decides to withdraw from peers, friends and family. In other words, there is a noticeable decline in activities that were very important to that person previously.
While unmanaged stress is damaging, there are many healthy ways to cope with stress and its symptoms. The earlier we learn to deal with and prevent our stress, the better our overall health will be.