A little bit of stress is good for memory and motivation, but when it gets out of hand, you are exposed to various implications.
There’s no running away from stress and when we constantly feel overwhelmed, anxious, or just really unpleasant, our bodies react in ways that may be damaging to our health. For example:
When you feel threatened or pressured, our bodies natural reaction is to release stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol, which work to get the heart pumping and boost energy levels. Once the stress has passed, we start to feel better. But do we?
Cortisol has the tendency to shut down the body’s natural repair system in order to deal with the immediate problem but this hormone can create long term health crisis such as:
- Unhealthy cravings
We tend to develop a hankering for sugar and fat as an unconscious coping habit towards stress. Cortisol can bind the receptors in the brain that control food intake.
- Weight gain
With poor eating, you can expect heavier weight. Cortisol may increase the amount of fat tissue your body actually needs and enlarge the size of fat cells.
- Narrowed blood vessels
When your body is overrun with cortisol, the more continuous the narrowing of vessels becomes. This in turn leads to a rise in blood pressure and risk of heart disease and strokes.
- Weakened immune system
During periods of stress, our bodies suffer from the imbalance level of hormones and as such, our immune system is compromised. This makes us prone to infections, which may take a longer time to heal.
Stress can also cause depression, bruxism (grinding of teeth), insomnia and liver diseases among many other things. Below are some proven studies that note the effects stress have on the body:
- Shrink the brain
Stressful moments, even in healthy people, can have an adverse effect on the brain. A new study from Yale University found that stressful occasions like going through a divorce or being laid off can actually shrink the brain. When under stress, the grey matter in regions of the brain tied to emotion and physiological functions tend to change in size. It is a serious matter because these changes in brain grey matter could signify future psychiatric problems.
- Chronic diseases
How you react to stress could also have an impact on your health in the long term. A study published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that people who were more stressed out and anxious about everyday life were more likely to develop chronic health conditions. They tend to have heart problems and arthritis 10 years down the line compared with people who viewed life in a more relaxed manner.
- Premature ageing
According to a research in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, a child that experiences extreme duress when exposed to violence early on could eventually lead to premature ageing of his or her cells. Those who witnessed violent acts or are victims of violence by an adult, tend to have shorter telomeres – a sign that they were ageing faster.
- Genes compromised
It has been said that stress can leave a lasting impression and this is true. Stress can affect a person’s genes which may be passed on from one generation to the other. A research by University of Cambridge showed that certain markings to the genes when influenced by outside factors like stress, are thought to be erased in the next generation.
For ways to cope with stress, read here.