It wreaks more havoc than you think.
According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute and the American Institute of Stress, 77 per cent of people feel regular physical effects of stress, such as fatigue, headaches and muscle tension.
It’s no secret that stress can seriously lower our quality of life and quite literally make us sick – some even say there is a correlation between stress and cancer.
Generally we go through three stages of stress, the first being the ‘fight or flight’ response, in which heart rate and blood pressure rise, giving us the needed but short-lived energy to deal with the situation. In the second phase, the body adapts to the challenge, which can result in the third and final stage: exhaustion.
Depression and heart disease are just two of many possible consequences of constant stress, but there are more subtle, less serious – but equally as frustrating – effects it can have on your body…
Feeling stressed releases a whole bunch of different chemicals, among them adrenaline and cortisol, which supplies the body with glucose for immediate energy. However, it also “slows down the body’s metabolism to maintain the glucose supply, and when it isn’t used it is stored as fat”, explains performance and health coach Laura Moore. “These elevated glucose levels also suppress insulin levels, which decreases energy in the cells. As a result, the brain sends out hunger signals that cause overeating.”
Ever wondered why your stomach hurts when you’re stressed or anxious? It all comes back to the ‘fight or flight’ stage your body is in, which ultimately shuts down any function that’s not integral to survival. Unfortunately, the digestive system is one of the first to be neglected. According to Moore, a toxic build-up follows, which makes you feel bloated and sluggish.
Scientists agree that there is a connection between stress and hair loss, although the exact trigger is yet to be found. Some health professionals say, just like indigestion, it’s related to the fact the body goes into survival mode when stressed, deeming hair growth as unnecessary. What makes stress-related hair loss even more complicated is the fact it takes three to six months after a stressful experience for the hair to actually fall out, often making it hard to know what triggered it.
As mentioned earlier, stress causes cortisol levels to rise. Not only does this affect digestion, it also reduces the skin’s ability to retain moisture, making it dry and flaky. According to dermatology professor Dr Gil Yosipovitch, stress also increases the level of inflammation in our bodies, which results in breakouts. On top of that, the higher blood pressure caused by stress can cause redness and flushing of the skin.
The only way to combat these health issues is to reduce the stress in your life. Of course, this is easier said than done when you live in a fast-paced world, which is why Moore suggests starting simple: get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. If you find it difficult to fall asleep even after a long day of work, try turning off all devices 60 minutes before bedtime to maintain high levels of melatonin (which aids sleep); the blue light screens emit can kill melatonin.
If all else fails, figure out exactly what is causing the stress and eliminate it. After all, nothing is more important than your health.
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