4 Surprising Ways Stress Can Impact Your Health
Stress is a significant, yet all-too-familiar health issue that we’ve all experienced at one point or another throughout our lives. It seems to follow us everywhere— whether it’s our professional, social, or personal life— stress has a funny way of gradually creeping up on us slowly, and then all at once.
As if it wasn’t challenging enough to overcome, now we have a global pandemic to deal with, causing the majority of people to feel more anxiety than they are used to. In turn, this coronavirus-related stress is wreaking havoc on our health in more ways than one. Physical health, emotional health, mental health— you name it; stress can impact it all. Read on to find out how.
1. Stress Triggers Skin Inflammation & Acne
When you think about the ways stress influences your well-being, you’ll likely attribute it to your mental health, right? While it is true— stress does affect your mental health— it also affects your physical health, including your skin, specifically. Let’s take a closer look:
Whether or not you use a prescription skincare medication and/or are religious in following your daily skincare routine, your complexion is bound to experience acne if you’re chronically stressed out.
When you’re constantly overwhelmed—emotionally or psychologically— your body reacts with what’s commonly referred to as the “flight-or-fight” response, which readies your body to either flee or well, fight. As a result, many hormones get sent throughout your body to direct resources away from functions that aren’t considered to be essential in life-threatening situations.
The “stress hormone” known as cortisol, for example, works to suppress your immune system, digestion, and other non-essential emergency functions to ultimately prepare them for “battle” and protect your health. And while this response is effective in keeping your body safe from harm, it can also trigger changes in your skin.
Your immune system, for instance, releases chemicals like interleukins throughout your body in response to “flight-or-fight.” Although this reaction serves to protect your health, it can also lead to inflammation, evoking skin flare-ups, and any preexisting skin conditions you may have (such as rosacea or eczema) to worsen.
Besides this, when your cortisol levels continuously increase, they also send your sebaceous glands into overdrive, which causes your skin to produce more oil. Because of this, your complexion is more susceptible to clogged pores and breakouts, especially if you already have acne-prone skin.
2. Stress Impairs Your Memory
Despite the fact that a little stress can help enhance your ability to store, encode, and retrieve factual information from your memory, too much stress has the power to do the complete opposite.
Chronic stress and trauma impair brain structure, particularly the structure involved with memory. Similar to the way our hormones send messages to our internal functions, your amygdala (associated with processing emotion) releases chemicals to help shift our nervous system and our body into “flight-or-fight” mode.
Sequentially, this system causes high levels of circulating stress hormones (or cortisol) to prevail in both our brain and body, which over time, can eventually cause severe damage to our hippocampus (associated with processing memories).
The damage can actually shrink our hippocampus, making our ability to encode and form memories increasingly difficult.
Not only that, but research suggests that exposure to stress right before a memory retention stress can impede memory retrieval, leading to a decreased performance in both animal and human subjects.
3. Stress Harms Your Cardiovascular Health
In a stressful situation, you might notice that your blood starts to pump and your heart starts to race. This widely regarded stress response comes from the release of your adrenaline hormone that transpires during “flight-or-fight.”
Luckily, these cardiovascular changes are only temporary and seem to disappear once the stress does. But what happens when those feelings of stress don’t disappear?
According to the American Heart Association, chronic stress links to heart disease— the leading cause of death in Americans:
“‘When stress is excessive, it can contribute to everything from high blood pressure, also called hypertension, to asthma to ulcers to irritable bowel syndrome,’ said Ernesto L. Schiffrin, M.D., Ph.D., physician-in-chief at Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, and professor and vice chair of research for the Department of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal.”
The relationship between stress and heart disease comes from the effects stress has on the behaviors and factors attributed to the risk of developing this cardiovascular problem. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels, overeating, physical inactivity, poor lifestyle habits like smoking, and drinking— are a few common stress-related coping mechanisms that cause people to experience high blood pressure and weakened artery walls.
So, while the relationship between stress and heart disease isn’t exactly clear, it’s evident to see how your cardiovascular health is in jeopardy as these techniques are used by people attempting to manage chronic stress.
4. Stress Hinders Chances of Conception
The pregnancy process is unique to every woman. For some, becoming pregnant is easy, regardless of whether or not they use proper protection or regularly smoke cigarettes. Other women, on the other hand, may do all the right things to become fertile and still struggle to obtain positive results on their at-home pregnancy test. How can this be?
The reasons may vary depending on a woman’s genes, age, medical history, etc. Still, recent studies point out that stress may influence a woman’s ability to become fertile.
In fact, the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that women with higher levels of stress are 13% less likely to conceive than women with moderate to low levels of stress.
The reasoning for this relates to the body’s inherent ability to recognize stress. It’s smart enough to know that these stress periods are not a good time for a woman to conceive, which prevents them from becoming fertile and hinders their chances of conceptions.
This, combined with poor lifestyle habits and the likelihood that women who are under a lot of stress aren’t having sex as often with their partner, puts the odds against them.
Needless to say, stress can negatively influence your well-being in so many different ways. Between the physical health to emotional health of mental health changes, it may seem close to impossible to overcome the impacts of stress.
Fortunately, with a little self-awareness and practice of stress management techniques, taking control of your chronic stress can be easy.