Stress is the body’s natural response to a threat, but when this response occurs often and even when there is no real danger present, it can increase your risk of developing serious illnesses. Moreover, both chronic and short-term stress can affect the body. Here, we take a closer look at how being stressed out impacts your health.
How Stress Works
When you become stressed, your heart rate becomes elevated and your blood pressure spikes. The stress hormone cortisol is also released, which send the body into “fight or flight” mode. Breathing becomes more rapid, and the muscles tense to prepare for action. While this response served our ancestors well in precarious situations, the effects of being in this state consistently can be harmful.
Symptoms of Stress
Stress produces a number of physical effects, including chest pain, fatigue, stomach upset, difficulty sleeping and focusing, and headaches. It’s also linked to heartburn, lower sex drive, and reproductive issues in women.
Of course, stress doesn’t just impact the physical realm. It can also alter your mood, leading to irritability or anger, lack of motivation, restlessness, and ultimately, sadness or depression. These affects can manifest through behavioral factors, too. Stressed individuals may be more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors, such as drug or tobacco use and alcohol abuse. Angry outbursts, over- or undereating, lack of exercise, and social withdrawal are also common behavioral effects.
The Serious Nature of Chronic Stress
Beyond contributing to the unfavorable conditions listed above, stress can also put you at risk for concerning conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Studies show that chronic stress is linked with inflammation, which is thought to be a culprit behind many chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis. It’s suspected that stress is related to an increase in cytokines, pro-inflammatory cells which are typically used for defense against infection. When they are triggered without an infection, however, the immune system attacks itself, leading to autoimmune conditions.
How to Combat Stress
Luckily, there are many practical ways to address stress, alleviate inflammation, and lower cytokines to support better overall health. While relaxation techniques such as meditation are preferred among many individuals, others find counseling to be helpful in identifying the sources of stress and developing healthy coping mechanisms. Exercising regularly, setting aside time for personal interests, and socializing regularly can also help to alleviate tension.