Stress can sometimes be beneficial to you. Stress helps your mind and body prepare for dangerous situations by activating all bodily functions for survival. It can also increase your energy and motivation when faced with deadlines and other non-life-threatening problems. Once the situation is over, your body returns to its normal state.
However, when stress becomes chronic, it becomes harmful to your body. The stressed and high-functioning state becomes your normal state. Before you know it, you’ve burned out like a light bulb left on for too long.
Stress And Its Causes
When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones, namely, cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones are all good in moderation because they enable your body’s fight-or-flight response. Stressors include demands related to school or work, sudden life changes, and traumatic events.
Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is the body’s alarm system that controls your mood, fear, and motivation. It also regulates your blood pressure, decreases inflammation, and governs your sleep cycle. On the other hand, adrenaline controls your emotions. It also increases heart rate, blood pressure, and expands air passages to your lungs.
So what can chronic stress and increased levels of these hormones do to affect your health?
Effects Of Stress
The hormones released during stressful situations affect both your physical and mental health. The repercussions range from your nervous system to your immune system. The following are complications that are directly affected by stress.
- Digestion Problems And Overeating
Increased cortisol levels cause you to crave fatty foods to gain energy for dangerous situations. When you are always under stress, this craving and desire to eat more also becomes constant. Your stomach produces more acid when stressed, which then results in heartburn and acid reflux.
Stress can also cause you to seek a coping mechanism involving food. In these cases, stress-eating becomes an escape to fulfill your emotional needs. High levels of cortisol also slow down metabolism, wherein the body burns fewer calories, then stores it as abdominal fat. You may also feel less inclined to exercise. Less exercise and more calories can then lead to weight gain.
- Chronic Heart Complications
Adrenaline, another hormone released when stressed, causes a temporary spike in your blood pressure. It enables your body to become more energetic. Chronic stress keeps the adrenaline in your system at high levels, resulting in constant high blood pressure. Extreme levels of adrenaline signal your heart to beat faster and your breathing to become shallow.
When stress becomes chronic, your cortisol levels also increase to the point it can no longer regulate inflammation. As a result, your body becomes more susceptible to heart diseases such as high blood pressure and lower HDL cholesterol. Overweight and obesity can also lead to chronic cardiovascular diseases.
High levels of cortisol also weaken the immune system, making you more prone to viral infections and common colds.
Headaches And Sleep Problems
Stress can also cause headaches and muscle tightness around your face, neck, and shoulders. Migraines and other tension-type headaches also increase in occurrence when you are stressed.
Short-term insomnia usually happens because of psychological disorders and stress. Stress can also result in having destructive sleeping patterns, which leads to more stress during the day. Your memory retention may also be negatively affected by stress.
Effect On Mental Health
Aside from your stress’s physical manifestations, there can also be adverse effects on your mental health. Chronic stress enables you to feel sadness, fear, anger, and frustration. These emotions can lead you to become more irritable and aggressive than usual.
You may start wanting to isolate yourself from the people you love because of these emotional changes. You may also experience trouble in concentrating. Some people even resort to self-destructive habits such as smoking and drinking to keep their stress at bay. These vices lock them in a cycle of stress and harmful coping mechanisms.
Chronic stress can also develop to become anxiety and depression. These mental health disorders can become harder to treat in the long run. To avoid this from happening, it will be helpful to stay away from stressors. However, triggers to anxiety and depression are harder to identify, and thus harder to avoid.
When your body becomes exposed to chronic stress, it may suffer different diseases such as hypertension, insomnia, and even obesity. Your body will suffer not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. Stress can progress to become mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, which are harder to treat.
Manage your stress before it becomes chronic to live a healthier life. Stress management includes simple steps, such as taking time off, doing stress-relieving activities, and avoiding stressors.
However, when your stress becomes too much to handle, you may need mental health professionals’ aid—seeking professional help guides you to manage your stress because counseling and therapy involve targeted stress management approaches.