Your Body and Stress: How Stress Can Impact Your Health

Yoga, meditation, mindful painting classes… There's a whole industry built around one goal: getting your stress levels down. What’s the big deal with stress?

Stress does more than just make you sweaty and anxious. It can have palpable physical effects on your body. Let's explore why you might want to put that stretch break back on your priority list if you had been putting it off.

Read on to see how stress can impact your body (and what you can do to lessen that impact). 

Stressing Out

It makes your heart race and your palms sweat, and no one ever claimed it felt good - but there are actually some more serious effects you can experience if you suffer from chronic stress. 

The Usual

A little bit of stress is actually evolutionarily “helpful”: it heightens your senses in a “fight or flight” way so you can tackle an issue head on. However, if you don’t address the issue, or if it's actually unclear where the stress is coming from, you could end up with chronic stress, which leads to negative outcomes. 

Here are some side effects you’re sure to see, no matter the duration. 

  • Anxiety: Feeling a little anxious is “par for the course” with stress - it's a sign from your brain that this issue needs your attention quite urgently. 
  • Sweatiness: Better grab your deodorant, because if you are stressed, you are definitely sweating it. 
  • Nervous habits: When you’re very stressed, it’s extra hard to kick those bad habits like biting your nails or grinding your teeth, since these things (though ultimately annoying) are your coping mechanisms. 

The Irritable

Some signs of stress quickly change from “par for the course” to “mildly inconvenient” to “now these side effects are compounding my stress.” 

When your stress moves from figurative headaches to literal ones, here’s what you might experience. 

  • Headache: Tension headaches (the most common type of headache) are caused by stress, and they are a total pain. 
  • Lack of appetite: Stress and anxiety may lead to a loss in appetite, and in extreme cases, weight loss. 
  • Insomnia: Ever lay awake at night because your brain can’t turn off? This is kicked into overdrive with stress. 
  • Hair loss: Pulling your hair out? Maybe – since stress has been shown to lead to increased hair loss. 
  • Low sex drive: When you have something pressing on your mind, it can be difficult to unwind and enjoy sex and romance. 

The Quite Serious

Chronic stress only compounds physical problems: in addition to weighing on your mind, your body pays the price, and in some cases in quite the serious way. 

If you are chronically stressed, this is what may be in store. 

  • Panic attacks: When anxiety is in overdrive, your body puts you into an extreme response mode, resulting in panic attacks. 
  • Depression: Whether you’re depressed because you’re chronically stressed, or stressed out because of your depression, one thing is for sure: they each make the other worse. 
  • Fertility issues: Your fertility, in addition to sometimes causing stress, may also be negatively impacted by chronic stress. 
  • Weakened immune system: When you’re stressed, your body produces more cortisol, which can lead to inflammation over time. It also leads to having lower white blood cells available to fight infection. 
  • Heart attack: Stress can cause high blood pressure, eventually leading to heart attacks in some people. 

Don’t Sweat It 

Stress’s impact on the body can range from “bummer” to “deadly,” but in any case, it doesn’t feel good to be stressed. Luckily, there are some proven tactics to prevent and combat chronic stress. 

Here are some tips for you to try if you are feeling stressed: 

  • Get physical: Even a quick walk is a way to take your mind off of things… and it makes your body feel good and active, letting your brain take a rest. Studies have shown that regular physical activity decreases stress levels. 
  • Check your diet: Being properly nourished can help your body withstand the effects of stress. 
  • Prioritize self care: Baths, massages, a nice glass of wine… sound relaxing? People who regularly engage in self care report feeling less stressed. 
  • Practice mindfulness: Whether it's meditation or therapy (or, better yet, both!), these tactics to check in with yourself and process your emotions are crucial to dealing with stress. 

Breathe in…Now breathe out…

Although stress can sometimes be the sign of excitement or healthy pressure, it often doesn’t feel that way. Good coping strategies are essential to dealing with stress in a productive way and protecting your body from the negative effects. 

Remember to breathe!

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