Stress comes in various forms – an upcoming exam, running late to an important meeting, juggling responsibilities at work and at home. And it's probably common knowledge that nothing good comes out of it.
Among the negative effects of stress include early aging, weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and a higher risk of chronic diseases. Some studies even show that stress may cause long-term disability.
So, if you’re looking to understand better what happens to your body when you are stressed, stick around. Learn more about its negative impacts, and discover effective ways to manage stress so you can live your life to the fullest.
What are the Dangers of Stress?
Stress influences your health, behavior, and productivity in a multitude of irreversible ways. If left unmanaged, stress may result in these adverse effects:
It can cause weight gain
Want to keep a healthy weight? Learn how to manage stress well.
Some people resort to stress eating as a strategy to cope with stress. When you stress-eat, though, you allow your emotions to take over and dictate how much you’ll eat. But why does this happen when we feel stressed?
Many of us find comfort in food. Sadly, though, high-calorie, high-fat, and sugary foods are often the most comforting. When we’re stressed, we find it convenient to order pizza, grab a tub of ice cream, and munch on sodium-packed chips.
And this unnecessary caloric intake often leads to weight gain. In one study, researchers suggest programs that promote mindful eating and exercise for emotional eaters who are struggling to keep a healthy weight.
It impairs your ability to control your emotions
Admit it – it’s easy to lose your cool when you are under too much stress. But a new study reveals that even mild levels of stress can negatively affect our ability to manage our emotions.
In one study, participants underwent fear conditioning. However, when they were put under mild stress by submerging their arms in ice-cold water, participants found it difficult to calm down when shown photos of spiders or snakes.
Researchers believe that “pervasive presence of stress in daily life compromises our ability to effectively regulate emotions.”
It weakens your immunity
Stress also weakens your immune system, making you more prone to sickness. It’s no wonder why we catch a fever or a cold when we’re often exposed to stressful situations.
Stress reduces the immune system’s ability to combat antigens, making us more vulnerable to infections.
Cortisol, often called the stress hormone, also contributes to weakened immunity. It prohibits the optimal function of the immune system, weakening the body’s inflammatory response against bacteria and viruses.
Experts say that stressed people are unable to regulate inflammatory response, increasing their risk of catching a cold when exposed to a virus. Aside from colds, stress has been linked to headaches, flu, and asthma as well.
It makes you prone to diseases and cognitive impairment
Since stress weakens your immunity, it also makes you more prone to a number of illnesses. Studies also found a link between stress and increased risk of cancer, anxiety, depression, lung disease, and diabetes.
It was found that stress can impact blood glucose levels, which may result in type 2 diabetes.
Meantime, research also shows that stress has a negative impact on mental health. In one study, it was found that children exposed to extremely stressful situations performed poorer on memory tests.
A separate study discovered that people exposed to stress during childhood are more likely to make poor decisions as adults.
It can affect your love life
Stress may also have a negative impact on your personal life. Sex can be an effective stress reliever. But it doesn’t always work that way. Some people lose their appetite for sex when they are stressed.
One study showed that stress can influence male fertility and reproduction. It was found that mild to severe stress can affect a man’s testosterone levels, sperm production, and sexual desire.
Stress has been linked to pregnancy problems as well. Stress during pregnancy increases the likelihood of premature birth or having a low-birthweight baby.
It may also cause problems in childhood such as developmental and behavioral issues.
It can damage your teeth and gums
People cope with stress differently. Some people grind their teeth to respond to stressful situations. Unfortunately, this can hurt your jaw and damage your teeth.
One study found that stress can affect your dental health. It was discovered that highly emotional people with money problems had the most severe periodontal disease.
It can increase your risk of heart disease
Stress is bad for your heart, too. It speeds up your heart rate and raises your blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association, coping strategies such as smoking, drinking alcohol, stress eating, and physical inactivity may increase blood pressure, and hurt artery walls.
Meantime, the American Institute of Stress revealed that acute stress of natural disasters like tsunamis earthquakes, and hurricanes increase the incidence of heart attacks and sudden death.
It accelerates premature aging
Stress also makes you look older. It speeds up the aging process by shortening telomeres, structures on the end of chromosomes.
When this happens, the telomeres’ structural integrity dwindles, causing cells to age faster and die younger. As a result, you get wrinkles, poor eyesight, and weak muscles, among other signs of aging.
It can cause long-term disability
Never underestimate the dangers mild stress can do as it can lead to disability.
According to research, even mild stress can lead to long-term disability, preventing people from doing any work. Researchers found that even mild stress “raised the risk of receiving disability benefits by up to 70 percent”.
Effective Ways to Manage Stress
Now that you know the dangers of stress, it’s time to beat and prevent it from ruining your health and getting in the way of your daily activities. Take a look at effective ways to cope with stress:
Listen to relaxing music
If a stressful situation overwhelms you, take a break and listen to calming music. Listening to relaxing music can help put your body and mind at ease, and reduce cortisol levels.
You can play instrumental music or listen to nature or ocean sounds. You’re certain to feel a difference with how you feel.
Talk to someone
Whether it’s a close friend or a family member, it helps to open up your problems with someone you trust. It’ll help unload the emotional baggage you’re carrying, plus, you may also hear some sound advice.
Having a listening ear, reassuring voice or a shoulder to cry on can help take off the heaviness that you feel and put everything in perspective.
Practice meditation or yoga
You can also make lifestyle changes that will make you benefit in the long run. You can try mental disciplines such as meditation and yoga, both of which are prized for their ability to prevent and reduce stress levels.
Yoga and meditation are also known to provide several other benefits for your health and quality of life. You can incorporate these practices into your daily routine by practicing it at home or joining a class.
Laugh it off
Just because you’re laughing it off doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the problem. While it’s necessary to find solutions to your problems, it doesn’t hurt to have a good laugh, too.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, chemicals that enhance mood and decrease cortisol and adrenaline levels. You can watch funny videos on the internet or read hilarious books.
It’s easier to think of solutions when your mind is more relaxed, and you’re no longer feeling too helpless, and miserable.
Take a walk
Sometimes, all you really need is a short break to release the tension building up in your body. A simple walk in the park can help clear your head, and let out steam.
In fact, a simple stretch can provide immediate relief when you’re feeling overwhelmed, especially with work. Getting your blood flowing releases endorphins, making you feel a lot better.
Get a quality sleep
You are more likely to lack sleep when you’re stressed. And sadly, lack of sleep can cause stress, too.
If this isn’t addressed right away, it might get worse over time. So, make sure to get quality sleep. It’s not enough that you complete the doctor-recommended six to eight hours. You have to make sure that those hours are quality, too.
By making your room conducive to sleep (i.e. dimming the lights, setting your bedroom temperature, getting a comfy mattress), you are more likely to get the rest you deserve.
Stress can drain out all your energy, make you look old, and negatively affect your productivity and personal life. Even worse, it can lead to diseases and life-long disability.
Put simply, stress doesn’t do you any good. So, learn how to manage your stress well. With a few tricks such as getting quality sleep, talking to a friend, taking a walk, and playing calming music, you can instantly feel relief.
Remind yourself of the negative impacts of stress every time a situation triggers it, and find ways to cope up with it. Remember, stress won’t have power over you unless you allow it.