Any kind of stress, especially chronic stress, is bad for your body.
Repeated, constant stress can cause panic, which puts further stress on your body.
What actually happens to the body during times of stress? Quite simply, it goes into survival mode. Your adrenal glands, which are atop each kidney, release stress hormones on a constant basis, which essentially depletes you of their essential functions. Anything that runs at full speed for long periods is bound to overheat and eventually give out.
Science has shown us that stress is bad for our bodies. Even the smallest of stresses – like traffic jams and work stress – can affect your physical well-being. Stress is not just “in your head,” psychologically speaking, though most of us tend to believe that. Current research does actually show that long-term stress has a severe impact on our minds; however, the physiological response is just as detrimental.
Can Stress Kill You? Possibly.
Below are nine stress-induced conditions. These are not irreversible, but they still do a great deal of damage, especially if you experience them over and over and over again.
1. Overworked Endocrine System
Stress causes a form of panic, which means that everything that happens in the body during panic situations – such as getting into a car accident or being attacked – happens during mental and emotional stress as well. The endocrine system is the primary player in stress and panic. This system is the one that helps move the chemicals and hormones around the body. It is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, and it goes into overdrive during stressful situations. The issue is that the endocrine does not know when to tell the glands to stop excreting the stress hormones, so it will continue to be hyperactive until the threat is gone.
2. Too Much Work for the Heart
As we all know, our heart rate increases and attempts to escape through our chest wall when we are under stress. The fight-or-flight response that’s embedded in our core existence as human beings is what drives this increased heart rate. It helps us live through dangerous situations. The reason the heart pumps harder is because it is sending that oxygen-rich blood to your organs and tissues in order to deal with the unexpected. That hard-working heart doesn’t do what it does without a price, though. Research has shown that prolonged stress can lead to heart disease due to the increase in blood pressure.
3. Unhealthy Food Cravings are Common
Another hormone that gets released during times of stress is cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been found to cause cravings for sugary foods. Cortisol likely influences that part of the brain that tells us when we’ve had enough to eat. It’s been linked with cravings for sugary foods, which likely has something to do with the fact that sweet foods release feel-good chemicals in the brain, which is why “stress eating” is so common. This puts you at risk of obesity and, of course, diabetes.
4. Risk of Diabetes
Blood glucose levels rise during times of stress. That’s worrisome on its own; however, even more so is our tendency to eat sugary foods to feel better. Adding to that, higher cortisol levels make it harder to burn fat, which can also raise both insulin and cholesterol levels. It doesn’t stop there, either. In the ancient world, stress often meant famine or scarce food sources. Our bodies responded by going into survival mode and storing away all the fat it can. While that was probably useful in the past, it’s definitely not so helpful now.
5. Tense Muscles
Muscle tension is one of the most common symptoms of chronic stress. It’s a classic response, actually, when your body reacts to “danger,” which is essentially what stress is. It is an anticipatory reaction because your body is ready to flee or fight. Unfortunately, however, that means achiness in the muscles, decreased blood flow to the brain and, ultimately, stress or tension headache.
6. Irregular or Absent Periods
Now, of course, this does not apply to men, but for women, stress influences this part of your bodily functions as well. Even though this system has no business being interrupted by stress, it does. Stress impacts the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates our hormones. This can cause problems with the pituitary gland, which is responsible for hormonal flow during the menstrual cycle.
7. Overwhelmed Immune System
As mentioned several times, during times of stress, everything goes into overdrive, and that includes your immune system. It does this to help prepare your body for what is to come. In our evolved bodies, some things have yet to catch up with our modern day world. In the ancient world, stress would often include physical injury. If you had a buffalo running toward you, you would panic, and your immune system would burst onto the scene, prepared to help heal whatever wound may come.
When your immune system stays in overdrive for a long time, it becomes overwhelmed and your body suffers. The irony here is that the more your immune system is working, the more likely you are to get sick. The immune system is delicately balanced, and when it is out of harmony, there are unfortunate consequences.
8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease Becomes a Risk
IBD is chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. It happens when the immune system malfunctions, and we know that the immune system malfunctions during chronic stress. This condition can lead to further digestive problems, like ulcers and even irritable bowel syndrome. When it is too active or not active enough, an abnormal response causes the immune system to attack the cells in your digestive tract, which causes inflammation and pain.
9. Memory Loss
Finally, a new study found that memory loss may happen because of chronic stress. We’re not talking about complete loss of memory; however, there is a link between stress, cortisol, and memory loss. If cortisol is being pumped through the body at high levels on a regular basis, we lose a few of the synapses in the brain that deal with memory. Specifically, it happens in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for short-term memory. However, I will mention here that the study that connects memory loss to stress had a high number of patients over 65, who may have already been suffering with some memory loss.
How Stressed Are You?
Stress is a common factor in this chaos-driven world. We must learn to cope if we wish to live happy, healthy lives. These nine issues are why it’s so important to keep stress levels under control. Mindful meditation, exercise, and laughter can all help, but the idea is to find what works for you. These coping mechanisms will not make the stressful problem go away, but it will help clear your mind to deal with it from a different perspective.