How stress affects your health

how stress affects your health

Sometimes, it feels like anything can cause stress. Deadlines at work, family disagreements, or, I don’t know, a global pandemic might leave you feeling on edge and worried. Whatever it is that’s causing your stress, it’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling and how it is affecting your everyday life and health.

What is stress/what causes it scientifically?

Stress is an aspect of life that everyone experiences. The physical and mental responses that your body produces when reacting to changes is what stress is, and our bodies were built to experience and react to it. 

The term “fight or flight” refers to the human response to a perceived threat. The perceived threat can be anything that triggers a stress response that requires you to adjust to change in either a flight or fight response. 

Stress serves a purpose and it can be helpful.  It’s what lets you run away from danger faster than you thought you could.  It’s what gives you the energy to pull an all-nighter to finish a project or study for an exam.  But when stress goes on for a long time and becomes “chronic stress”, that’s where it starts doing more harm than good.

Physical effects

During periods of high stress, your body might experience physical effects such as a racing heart, headaches, exhaustion, a weak immune system, and more. Again, everyone experiences stress differently and therefore has different physical reactions to stress.

We are typically more likely to get sick when we’re facing a lot of stress as our bodies aren’t able to fight off antigens as well as normal. The stress hormone, corticosteroid, lower the number of cells in your body that are there to protect against infection, resulting in a weaker immune system.

Stress can affect your digestive system by weakening the walls of your GI tract. This can give you an upset stomach and even prevent nutrients from being absorbed properly.  Too much cortisol can cause ulcers, and lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  

Stress can change your daily habits, leading to more physical issues.  Over-eating, under-eating, difficulty sleeping, and self-medicating with alcohol and drugs are some of the more common ways too much stress can interfere with our daily lives and cause long-term physical damage, in addition to the damage caused by the stress hormone.  

Stress has also been found to affect the menstrual cycle in a number of ways. Because cortisol is a hormone, it can interfere with all the hormones that regulate your cycle.  This can lead to missed periods (which oftentimes can lead to more stress ), and mood fluctuations.

Emotional effects

Experiencing a lot of stress can affect your mood, mental health, and behavior as well. Many people experience high anxiety while faced with a lot of stress, while others experience restlessness, anger, or a lack of motivation. Other’s include a lower sex drive, memory problems, mood swings, and depression.

If you feel stress taking a toll on your mental health, talk to your primary care physician about what you’re feeling.  Medication and talk therapy can help you cope with handling difficult situations, and regular exercise and meditation or journaling are things anyone can try, and they have been proven to help you deal with the emotional effects of stress. 

At the end of the day, stress is inevitable. What you can do, however, is be aware of the ways it affects your mood and health and how you can better manage it. Wherever your stresses come from, Winx Health (formerly known as Stix) is here to help. Check out the Winx Health Library for more like this.

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