We all know that stress has a severe impact on our lives and our health. We’ve been told the same thing repeatedly. Unfortunately, it’s easier to say that we’re going to reduce the stress in our lives, versus actually doing it. No one does it on purpose, but modern life is stressful from every point of view, and there doesn’t seem to be all that many ways around it. However, the more you know the more power you have to make a change. With that in mind, here are five health drawbacks of being under too much stress.
1. Depression & Anxiety
Stress affects your emotional health as much as your physical health, and anxiety and depression are just a couple of the things you may be confronted with. Mental health is still underestimated and overlooked in our society, but it’s no joke. Studies have shown that if you’re working a high-stress job, you’re 80% more likely to develop depression.
Why does this happen? There are two types of stress – acute and chronic – and both of them can be dangerous because they cause the body’s natural stress response mechanism to become overactive. Consequently, the body produces too much cortisol and too little serotonin and dopamine, which significantly reduces your happiness. This can lead to anxiety and depression, with the stress response system unable to reset itself after the crisis has passed. This is also a cause for instability.
What can you do about it? Be careful to monitor your mental health closely while you are going through periods of high stress of either variety. You may try meditation or exercise to improve your mood. If nothing seems to help, you may want to talk to your doctor about it.
Believe it or not, stress can lead to a person becoming obese. At first glance the two do not seem to be related in any way. However, you can trace a direct link from obesity to being exposed to stress. Most people don’t know that weight gain is not just the result of uncontrolled eating and lack of exercise, but also of high stress. And while stressful situations can, indeed, cause so-called “stress eating”, this type of fat is produced by stress itself. Belly fat is especially dangerous, and that is exactly where stressed people tend to deposit the excess weight.
Why does this happen? When you are under stress, your body produces increased amounts of a hormone called cortisol. In turn, this hormone causes higher levels of fat to be deposited in the belly, which is a health risk.
What can you do about it? Obviously, you should avoid consuming rich food that promotes weight gain, and you should also try to get more exercise. If you’re sitting in a chair all day and not moving around, even walking up and down a few flights of stair every day can have a positive impact on your health.
3. Premature aging or death
People often joke about something “shaving years off their life”, or “causing gray hairs”, but it’s no joking matter. Stress can affect you in such a way as to cause an accelerated aging process and even premature death. Situations such as taking care of a person who is dying or chronically ill can trigger this kind of response because of the accumulated stress you harbor over the course of the care-taking period.
Why does this happen? Studies have shown that certain areas of your chromosomes exhibits signs of an accelerated aging process which can be triggered by too much stress. That can result in your aging being accelerated anywhere from 9 to 17 years.
What can you do about it? While taking care of others, don’t forget to also take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep the recommended 8 hours per night, and make sure you find some sort of positive distraction. Direct your energy into something positive that takes your mind off your source of stress.
4. Heart problems
High levels of stress can cause or worsen heart problems even in the healthiest of individuals. This is especially true in people who are already at risk, who have a family history of heart disease, or who suffer from high blood pressure. Heart attacks can come about because of shock or extremely upsetting circumstances, and they can also be caused by increased stress.
Why does this happen? Among other effects on the body, stress increases blood flow, as well as heart rate, and it sends triglycerides and cholesterol right into your blood stream. Especially if you have other health problems or factors that increase your risk factor – obesity, for example – stress can send you over the edge.
What can you do about it? If you know that you have a family history or increased risk of heart disease, you should avoid factors that increase risk, as well as try to limit the sources of stress. Some of them cannot be avoided, but you should always make an active effort.
Another surprising outcome of being exposed to stress is the worsening or appearance of diabetes – type 2 diabetes, to be precise. There are two main reasons why this change occurs in your body. First of all, feeling stressed can vastly increases your tendency to stress eat, particularly carbs and sugar. This isn’t ideal for anyone, but things get worse if you have diabetes or you’re at risk of getting this disease. Second of all, stress can actually raise your glucose levels.
Why does this happen? When you’re stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. Consequences of this not only include an increased heart rate, but also an increase in blood sugar levels, to prepare your body for whatever might happen.
What can you do about it? You can avoid overeating as much as possible, especially sugar and carbs, in the first case. In addition, you should try some breathing exercises and relaxing techniques that will calm your stress response.