How Stress Affects Health – How To Reduce Stress
Stress affects health, and while we all know that, stress is an unavoidable part of life. The best we can do is avoid chronic stress and live a healthy lifestyle to maximize life quality. Stress has been linked to a range of physical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression, and anxiety disorders. It can also lead to mental health issues like burnout, which is a state of emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged or chronic stress.
The hormones released when we’re stressed can also have an effect on our immune system. Long-term stress has been found to weaken the body’s ability to fight off infection and disease, which can lead to an increased risk of developing certain illnesses.
Stress Affects Health – Heart Disease
Heart disease is caused by chronic inflammation in the body. This can be the result of environmental or lifestyle factors, such as smoking, diet, and exercise. When the body is under stress for long periods of time, it produces hormones like cortisol that increase heart rate, blood pressure, and the risk of heart attack. Long-term exposure to excessive cortisol can damage the arteries over time and increase the risk of heart disease.
Stress can also lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating or not getting enough sleep. This can lead to weight gain, which is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease and other forms of heart disease. Additionally, when people are under stress they often neglect regular exercise, which is important for maintaining a healthy heart.1
Stress Affects Health – Stroke
Stress is a major cause of stroke. It affects the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure and increases one’s risk of having a stroke. Severe stress and traumatic events, such as experiencing physical or emotional trauma, can cause hypertension. This increases the likelihood of having a stroke due to elevated levels of cortisol and other hormones in the bloodstream.
Stress can also make existing cardiovascular diseases worse, as it increases inflammation and makes the heart work harder, putting extra strain on it. Chronic stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking or overeating, which can further increase one’s risk of having a stroke.2
Stress Affects Health – Type 2 Diabetes
Stress is one of the leading causes of diabetes. The hormones that our bodies release during times of stress can cause blood sugar to rise, and when this happens on a regular basis, it can lead to diabetes. Stress-induced hormones also take away from the body’s ability to respond effectively to insulin, which further contributes to developing diabetes.3
Read more about Type 2 Diabetes.
Stress Affects Health – Obesity
Obesity is a serious public health issue in the United States, affecting over one-third of all adults. Many factors can contribute to obesity, however, stress has been identified as an important contributor. Stress is a major factor in weight gain and it affects different people in different ways. It has been linked to overeating, cravings for unhealthy food, and even hormone imbalances.
When you are under stress, the increase in the hormones adrenaline and cortisol can increase your appetite, causing you to crave foods that are high in calories, yet low in nutrients. In addition, the physical tension caused by stress can lead to fatigue and lack of motivation, which can further contribute to overeating.
To make matters worse, research has shown that people who are overweight or obese tend to experience more stress than those of a healthy weight. This creates a vicious cycle of stress-induced overeating and weight gain.4
Read more about losing weight.
Stress Affects Health – Depression
Stress can be a contributing factor to depression. It can lead to physical, psychological, and emotional exhaustion. When we are under stress for an extended period of time, it can result in brain inflammation, altering levels of serotonin and dopamine.
These chemicals play important roles in regulating mood, appetite, sleep cycles, energy level, and other processes that are essential for maintaining mental health. When these neurotransmitters become disrupted due to stress hormones, depression can occur. In addition, people who are under stress often lack physical and emotional support which can further contribute to depression.5
Stress Affects Health – Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common effects of long-term stress and can become debilitating if not properly managed. Understanding how stress causes anxiety can help us better cope with our emotions and the situations we find ourselves in. When facing a stressful situation, the buildup of hormones can lead to feelings of anxiousness and fear which can cause us to become overly emotional or irrational in certain situations.
In addition to the physical effects, stress can have psychological consequences as well. When we are stressed for a long period of time, our brains are more likely to focus on negative thoughts and emotions. We may start to feel inadequate or overwhelmed by our circumstances, which heightens the anxiety response.6
Stress Affects Health – Mental Exhaustion
Stress can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and unable to cope with everyday tasks. When we become emotionally exhausted due to stress, it can have a direct effect on our mental and physical health. Symptoms of emotional exhaustion include irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, lack of motivation, and an inability to cope with everyday tasks. You may also feel overwhelmed and unable to enjoy activities that you used to find fulfilling.7
Stress Affects Health – Immune System Dysfunction
Stress can have a significant impact on our immune system and how it responds to foreign invaders. When we are under stress, excessive cortisol levels can disrupt the normal functioning of the immune system. This means that when we are under stress, we may be more prone to infections or illnesses.
Additionally, stress can lower our immunity by reducing the number of white blood cells or T-cells produced by the body. These cells play an important role in fighting off infections, so when their numbers are decreased, the body is more susceptible to attack from bacteria and viruses.8
Stress Affects Health – Autoimmune Diseases
Stress has a powerful effect on our bodies and our minds, but few of us know that it can cause long-term health conditions like autoimmune diseases. While scientists are still studying the link between stress and autoimmune diseases, recent research is showing a significant connection.
Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, and type 1 diabetes occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, tissues, or organs in the body. This leads to inflammation and pain, as well as a host of other symptoms.
When we are stressed out or anxious for extended periods of time, this can lead to an overactive immune response that increases inflammation in the body, making us more prone to developing autoimmune diseases.9
Read more about what causes autoimmune diseases.
How Stress Affects Health – How To Reduce Stress
It is important to manage stress in order to maintain good health. Effective strategies include getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, and engaging in activities that are calming and enjoyable. Taking time for yourself each day can also help to reduce stress levels.
It’s also essential to take breaks throughout the day and make sure you’re taking care of your physical health by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest. Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help to reduce stress levels and promote overall well being. Finally, it’s important to build strong personal relationships with family and friends in order to create a sense of community and support system.10 11 12
When we experience stress, it is important to remember that there are resources available to help us manage it so that we do not become overwhelmed by its effects. By taking the time to acknowledge and address our stress, we can ensure that it does not negatively impact our health in the long-term. Taking proactive steps to reduce stress and improve mental health can lead to a happier, healthier life.
It is important to remember that although stress is an inevitable part of life, we have the power to manage it in order to ensure our physical and mental well being. By taking the time to take care of ourselves and reach out for help when needed, we can remain healthy and happy.
Read more about how to improve your health.
1 Dar T, Radfar A, Abohashem S, Pitman RK, Tawakol A, Osborne MT. Psychosocial Stress and Cardiovascular Disease. Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med. 2019 Apr 26;21(5):23. doi: 10.1007/s11936-019-0724-5. PMID: 31028483; PMCID: PMC6568256.
2 Kotlęga D, Gołąb-Janowska M, Masztalewicz M, Ciećwież S, Nowacki P. The emotional stress and risk of ischemic stroke. Neurol Neurochir Pol. 2016 Jul-Aug;50(4):265-70. doi: 10.1016/j.pjnns.2016.03.006. Epub 2016 Mar 23. PMID: 27375141.
3 Hackett RA, Steptoe A. Type 2 diabetes mellitus and psychological stress – a modifiable risk factor. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2017 Sep;13(9):547-560. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2017.64. Epub 2017 Jun 30. PMID: 28664919.
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5 Yang L, Zhao Y, Wang Y, Liu L, Zhang X, Li B, Cui R. The Effects of Psychological Stress on Depression. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(4):494-504. doi: 10.2174/1570159×1304150831150507. PMID: 26412069; PMCID: PMC4790405.
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7 Gavelin HM, Neely AS, Dunås T, Eskilsson T, Järvholm LS, Boraxbekk CJ. Mental fatigue in stress-related exhaustion disorder: Structural brain correlates, clinical characteristics and relations with cognitive functioning. Neuroimage Clin. 2020;27:102337. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102337. Epub 2020 Jul 3. PMID: 32652491; PMCID: PMC7348057.
8 Morey JN, Boggero IA, Scott AB, Segerstrom SC. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015 Oct 1;5:13-17. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007. PMID: 26086030; PMCID: PMC4465119.
9 Sharif K, Watad A, Coplan L, Lichtbroun B, Krosser A, Lichtbroun M, Bragazzi NL, Amital H, Afek A, Shoenfeld Y. The role of stress in the mosaic of autoimmunity: An overlooked association. Autoimmun Rev. 2018 Oct;17(10):967-983. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2018.04.005. Epub 2018 Aug 14. PMID: 30118900.
10 Cramer H, Lauche R, Anheyer D, Pilkington K, de Manincor M, Dobos G, Ward L. Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depress Anxiety. 2018 Sep;35(9):830-843. doi: 10.1002/da.22762. Epub 2018 Apr 26. PMID: 29697885.
11 Saeed SA, Cunningham K, Bloch RM. Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. Am Fam Physician. 2019 May 15;99(10):620-627. PMID: 31083878.
12 Heckenberg RA, Eddy P, Kent S, Wright BJ. Do workplace-based mindfulness meditation programs improve physiological indices of stress? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res. 2018 Nov;114:62-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2018.09.010. Epub 2018 Sep 22. PMID: 30314581.