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5 Ways Stress Affects Your Health

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Jordan Kadish

August 9, 2022

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If you are a person with just about any responsibilities in life, you have most likely come to know stress very well. We have all experienced the aches and pains, inner turmoil, and mental exhaustion that stress can bring into our lives. To put it quite plainly, stress is not a great feeling. 

“Stress” can be defined as the normal human response to new situations that helps us stay alert and react effectively to change. Stress is a healthy response to stimuli that require you to react fast. For example, your body’s natural stress response is highly necessary for an emergency situation, like a sudden fire. 

What about bad stress though? Unfortunately, the average American’s stress level has only increased in the past few years as a result of work, the pandemic, and life in general. In 2021, over 79% of adult employees reported experiencing heightened work stress. In 2022, 87% of Americans reported experiencing heightened stress about the economy and inflation (rising over 30% since 2021). The rise in stress regarding money is the highest it has been since 2015. From these statistics, it is safe to say that people have a lot to stress about. 

Many aspects of your health can be affected by stress:

Mental Health

 Chronic stress is a common precursor to many mental health issues, increasing your risk for anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders. Stress occurs when your body’s “fight or flight” system is activated, meaning it prepares itself to either tackle the stressor head-on or run away. The fight or flight system’s purpose is to defend your body against dangerous threats. Many of the common stressors today (money issues, arguments with friends, negative body image, etc) do not require the fight or flight response to activate, but stress causes the response anyways.

Because your body gets used to the constant fight or flight response being triggered, the system that controls stress is unable to return to its “normal” state. In turn, your mind’s attention, memory, and emotional regulation are negatively affected. Recent studies found that chronic stress can even negatively affect nerve cells (gray matter), physically altering the make-up of your brain and the way it functions.

 

Physical Health

The body system that controls the activation of stress is called the “autonomic nervous system.” When this system is activated too often due to chronic stress, it can start to bring negative effects on your physical health. Common physical symptoms of stress include chest pains, body aches, migraines, high blood pressure, and digestive issues. These symptoms can turn into more serious ailments, like heart disease, asthma, and stomach ulcers.

 

Sleep

Sleep is extremely important for your body to be able to function properly both mentally and physically. Medical professionals recommend that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night to stay healthy. But, with busy schedules, many of us find ourselves finally getting into bed later and waking up much earlier than we wish. 

Stress only worsens this—even if we can get to bed on time, it can make us stay awake tossing and turning far past bedtime. High levels of stress frequently prolong how long it takes for your body to calm down enough to sleep. It can also fragment sleep by waking your body up in the middle of the night due to the activation of your autonomic nervous system. Lack of sleep can then impact your vulnerability to health issues such as decreased metabolism and endocrine dysfunction.

 

Immune System

Are you noticing a theme here? Stress contributes to issues in practically all parts of the body, even the immune system. It triggers a hormone called “cortisol” which suppresses the effectiveness of your immune system. 

Since your immune system is responsible for fighting off germs and diseases by lowering the number of lymphocytes, or “natural killer cells,” in the bloodstream, suppressing the immune system puts your body at increased risk of getting sick. Common signs of a weak immune system that you can look for are having swollen lymph nodes, frequent cold sores, and catching common colds often.

 

Behavior/Relationships

Since stress can become such a large indicator of your mood and mental wellbeing, it’s no surprise that it also affects how you behave. It has a multitude of behavioral symptoms, such as becoming withdrawn from others, indecision, shortness of patience, and inflexibility. 

These symptoms can adversely affect your relationships with those around you. Although you may be pleasant and agreeable when not stressed, stress can turn you into someone who is on edge, easily angered, or socially withdrawn. This can lead to riffs in relationships, which then affect self-esteem and feelings of social disconnectedness. 

 

A infographic depicting the 5 ways stress affects your health

Managing Stress

As you can see, stress affects way more than just your mental well-being. Persistent feelings of stress can have a “domino effect” on almost all other areas of your life. Unfortunately, the adverse effects of stress are very prevalent in the daily lives of Americans. If you are dealing with these effects, we encourage you to reach out for help and support! It’s never too late to learn coping skills to decrease your stress and reverse these effects. 

Eleanor Health is here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in LouisianaMassachusettsNorth CarolinaNew JerseyOhioTexas, and Washington.

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