10 PLACES WHERE STRESS NEGATIVELY IMPACTS YOUR BODY
‘Stress is the number one epidemic of our time, directly or indirectly responsible for cardio problems and inflammation’
Deepak Chopra, health, wellness and spirituality guru.
With so much talk about the negative impact of prolonged stress on our bodies and minds, in this post, I wanted to summarise the specific conditions that untapped stress could lead to, so that you can spot the signs and take corrective action.
Stress can cause ‘pro-inflammatory cytokines’ (including stress hormones and other chemicals) to be released. This makes the skin more sensitive and more reactive, according to dermatologist and clinical psychologist Richard G. Fried (MD, PhD). This can lead to a range of skin problems, for example acne, blisters, psoriasis, breakouts, eczema and other types of dermatitis.
When we are stressed, we often develop headaches or migraines. This is due to a build-up of tension around the head, neck and shoulder area. Stress can affect the brain as well. Research suggests that stress extended over long periods of time stimulates the growth of proteins that lead to memory loss and might cause Alzheimer’s.
Individuals who are stressed also tend to smoke more, drink more alcohol and become engaged in harmful activities like drug-taking, all of which can damage the brain.
Stress is also in the same ‘burnout continuum’ as depression, and if left unchecked could lead to more serious mental health issues.
Because stress increases our blood pressure, there is a direct link with heart disease. Prolonged stress also affects blood-sugar levels, which can have implications on the way the heart functions or lead to insulin resistance, which can result in type 2 diabetes.
The emotional effects of stress can also alter the heart rhythms or release inflammatory markers into the bloodstream, both of which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Our stomachs are very sensitive to stress. Our brains and guts are directly connected via a system of tiny little nerves, stemming from the vagus nerve, which communicate messages between the brain and the stomach. Thus, the brain (and related stress) can easily affect gut function.
Stress doesn’t only affect the functioning of the gut, but it can even change the composition of the microbes in the body (through a combination of stress hormones and poor dietary choices). Research is increasingly showing that gut bacteria help boost the immune system as well as aiding digestion. An imbalance can therefore lead to conditions such as IBS, as well as a compromised immune system.
Stress can also change the amount of gastric juices produced by the stomach. If you eat after a stressful situation, the nutrients in the food will not be absorbed as well as they would if you were calm.
Chronic stress exposure can lead to a variety of gut-related issues like gastro oesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcer disease, IBD, IBS and even food allergies.
Similar to the stomach, stress directly affects how well our intestines function. Stress-response in the intestines results in reduced nutrient absorption, decreased oxygenation of the gut, 4 times less blood flow to our digestive system, and a decreased enzyme output by as much as 20,000-fold, all leading to less efficient digestion.
As you can see, stress is incredibly detrimental to the health of your digestive system and can even damage the delicate tissue, leading to inflammatory diseases and conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic skin conditions, kidney problems, urinary conditions, allergic and atopic conditions, degenerative conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a variety of other inflammatory bowel disease (IBS, IBD, etc.).
Interestingly, the connection between the stomach and gut actually works both ways. Not only does the brain affect the digestive tract, but the digestive tract affects our emotions. According to Harvard researchers, “A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected – so intimately that they should be viewed as one system.”
The pancreas responds to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ signals by producing a more-than-required amount of insulin, which if consistently elevated (in the case of chronic stress) can damage our arteries, and put us at risk for diabetes and obesity – both of these can be forerunners of cancer.
8. Immune System
As we all know, the immune system helps to defend the body against foreign bodies like bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells. When we are stressed, chemicals that are released can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes (disease- fighting white blood cells) available in the blood, making us more susceptible to infections.
We all get stressed, and short-term suppression of the immune system isn’t dangerous. However, when this stress becomes chronic and intense, the immune system is consistently compromised. The stress hormone cortisol, when raised long-term, renders the cells of the immune system unable to respond to hormonal control, requiring even more hormones to be released, subsequently leading to high levels of inflammation that promote disease.
Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system, because when people are stressed, they often reach for things to quickly reduce the stress – like alcohol, cigarettes, etc., which themselves negatively impact the immune system.
9. Joints and Muscles
Aches and pains in the bones, joints and muscles may also be stress-induced. Studies have shown correlations between increased depressive symptoms and reported stress with neck and shoulder pain as well as lower back pain.
10. Reproductive System
Stress is known to decrease fertility and sexual drive. Stress hormones like glucocorticoids lower the levels of a brain hormone called ‘gonadotropin releasing hormone’ or GnRH (the body’s main sex hormone), and also boost levels of another hormone (GnIH) that suppresses GnRH – a double whammy for the reproductive system.
Women who are trying to conceive when stressed may have reduced success, as has been documented in numerous cases. When glucocorticoids are released in response to stress, our pituitary gland stops releasing follicle-stimulating hormones as well as gonadotropin luteinizing hormones, and thus suppresses testosterone and oestradiol production and dampens sexual behaviour.
Summary of the 10 PLACES WHERE STRESS NEGATIVELY IMPACTS YOUR BODY (it’s worse than you think)
Clearly, it is in our best interests to reduce and manage the stress in our lives as much as we can.
Find out how you can protect yourself from negative stress, download a free PDF copy of Success without Stress.