Harmful to Your Health: Stress and its Effect on Your Body
Let’s say you wake up tired and sore. When you get to work, you develop a splitting headache that makes it all but impossible to focus on the day’s assignments. When you get home, you decide to go to bed early, but you find that your head simply won’t turn off. If you exhibit these symptoms, you might believe that you’ve caught a cold, but’s there’s also a good chance that you are actually under a significant amount of stress.
Can’t Sleep, Can’t Think
While stress is a psychological condition, it can have serious deleterious effects on your physiology. Anyone who’s ever been worried about taking a final exam knows that stress can have a negative impact on your ability to sleep. If the stress you’re under causes you to experience insomnia on a regular basis, your energy level will gradually drop off and your cognitive processing will begin to erode, leaving you both fatigued and unfocused.
The Pain of Being Stressed
Stress can also cause you to feel a great deal of pain. When you’re under a great deal of stress, you can express your anxiety in ways that aren’t obvious. For example, you can unconsciously tense your muscles. If you’re like most workers in the U.S., you spend a lot of your day at a desk for hours on end. Holding an already tense muscle in the same position for a long period of time will put that part of the body under considerable strain. That strain will manifest itself as lower back pain, tension headaches and abdominal cramps.
Stress and Weight Gain
Stress can also have a big impact on your weight. When under stress, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. Its biological function is to supercharge your reaction time and reflexes in order to allow you to escape a potentially life-threatening situation. However, the body is not designed to exist in such a heightened state indefinitely. As cortisol builds up, it suppresses your ability to properly metabolize fat cells. And as cortisol also has the effect of making you crave foods that are rich in fat and refined sugars, those dealing with excessive amounts of stress can find themselves rapidly gaining weight.
A Stressed Out Life Is a Short Life
While persistent fatigue, body pain and weight gain are all extremely problematic symptoms, it’s the long-term effects of stress that are the most dangerous. If you don’t take steps to deal with your stress, your decreased metabolic function and poor eating habits could eventually result in an obesity diagnosis. Additionally, the excess fat cells in your body can have the effect of clogging up your arteries, which can lead to the development of hypertension and heart disease. And, the increased amounts of glucose in your blood that accompanied regular cortisol and fusion can greatly increase your risk factor of becoming diabetic. As it turns out, the old idiom about stress taking years off your life is 100 percent correct.
Strategies for Fighting Stress
Given the varied and potentially catastrophic effect stress can have on your physical health, it’s essential that you find ways to lower your stress level. Exercise is an excellent method of fighting stress as it triggers the release of hormones that will help stabilize your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. While there is no consensus about which kind of exercise has the greatest impact on stress, it has been established that 30 minutes of daily exercise can greatly reduce a person’s stress level. It’s also important to resist the urge to consume junk foods when stressed, as doing so only has the effect of making you more agitated. Maintaining a balanced diet heavy in nutritious foods will keep your blood sugar balanced in your metabolic function optimized. And as this Mayo Clinic post points out, practicing techniques such as meditation or yoga can lower the amount of stress hormones in your bloodstream.
The fact of the matter is stress is an unavoidable part of life, but not dealing with stress can lead to a foreshortened lifespan.