Everyone experiences periods of stress in their life. In fact, having a certain level of stress in your life considered to be healthy! However, it seems that many people live in a constant state of stress and don't have an understanding of just how harmful this can be to their overall health. It's more than just an emotional state. It affects us physically and can be extremely damaging in the long term.
For this week's Friday Five, I'm diving into the negative effects that stress can have on your health. I hope they will inspire you to take some time to relax and unwind this weekend!
When you are stressed, digestive processes are one of the first things to shut down. This happens because stress initiates the "flight or flight" response of your sympathetic nervous system, and digestion becomes a "non-essential" function. Basically, your body can't tell the difference between everyday work stress and actual physical danger, so it sends all of your body's energy to essential organs for survival. If stress persists long-term, your digestive function will be impacted in a big way. This can cause problems because as I've mentioned in previous posts, poor digestion is often linked to many other health conditions, including chronic headaches or migraines, allergies, liver function issues, nutrient deficiencies and fatigue (to name a few!).
2. Immune Function
The major function of the immune system is to protect us from infection and illness. When you are stressed, your body releases hormones that suppress the production of white blood cells, which are responsible for helping to fight infection in the body. This is why many people notice that they always seem to catch a cold during or after busy and stressful times in their life!
An immune system that has been suppressed by stress for a long period of time also makes you more susceptible to more serious auto-immune diseases, such as Chron's, Colitis, Multiple Sclerosis, and Arthritis.
3. Metabolism & Weight
Your body produces many hormones for various functions. As you may or may not know, Cortisol is the "stress hormone". Adrenaline is also released by the body in times of stress ("fight or flight"). When these 2 hormones are released in large quantities on a regular basis, it creates an imbalance of other hormones in the body and results in impaired metabolism and can cause weight gain (or in some cases, unhealthy weight loss).
Another way that stress can affect your weight is by causing an increased appetite (usually for quick sources of energy, meaning simple carbs like breads and sugars!). As a result, over time you could potentially also develop insulin resistance, which as we know can lead to obesity and/or diabetes over time.
4. Mental Health & Cognitive Function
Your adrenal glands are responsible for many functions, including producing hormones and reacting to stressors in your environment. When you are stressed for a long period of time, the adrenal glands become over-worked and eventually results in what is known as Adrenal Fatigue. This condition plays a role in conditions such as anxiety, PMS, mood swings, chronic headaches and depression.
In addition, being in a state of stress is known to impair basic cognitive functions including memory, information processing, learning, and thinking. Have you ever noticed that when you've got a lot on your to-do list, you start to forget things or that you aren't able to think clearly? Stress is to blame!
5. Physical Discomfort
Stress is known to cause inflammation in the body by over-using the immune response. When your body is constantly in "fight or flight" mode, the body becomes inflamed because it is constantly ready to fight off a potential threat. Inflammation leads to a whole host of physical symptoms, including muscle and joint pain and headaches. Other physical symptoms that are linked to stress include heartburn, stomach ache, fertility issues, rapid breathing and pounding heart, and menstrual disruptions.