On some level, you likely know stress isn’t good for you. But when you find yourself in a stressful situation – whether it’s searching for a new job, dealing with a stressful boss, or embarking on a new career path, it can feel like there’s not much you can do about stress aside from ride it out.
Unfortunately, the longer constant stress goes unchecked, the bigger the health issues you may face. Studies have linked chronic stress to impacting our immune systems, increasing our chance of cardiovascular disease and, overall, taking years off our life expectancy.
What happens to our body when we get stressed? Our stress response is something that was meant to keep us alive back when death by predatory animals was a concern for the human species. When we encounter stress, our “fight or flight” response is triggered in our brain. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, enabling us to react to the stressor. However, when the stressor is a demanding email from your boss…that reaction isn’t very helpful.
In fact, it’s the opposite – instead of helping us through the time of stress, it manifests in problematic ways within our body. Here are a few alarming health problems stress can cause – and why it happens.
Grinding your teeth
Teeth grinding, known as “bruxism” in the medical world, is a stress induced habit you may not actually notice you’re doing. Constant teeth grinding can cause headaches or even jaw pain, which may be the ailment that bothers you before you realize you’ve been grinding away. Stress and anxiety have been linked as a cause of bruxism – and if the problem persists, it can require costly dental work.
Is it really that burrito you ate for lunch that’s causing you digestive issues? Or has consistent stress started to wreak havoc on your gut health? Studies show that stress can impact your gut microbiome – which is made up of organisms that help your body digest food. If you find yourself constantly feeling stressed and have started to experience constipation, diarrhea or persistent stomach aches, stress could be to blame.
If you’ve never experienced a migraine in your life – but now find yourself constantly at their mercy, stress can be the culprit here, too. Studies have found a direct correlation between stress and migraines – and about 4 out of 5 migraine sufferers cite stress as the cause.
Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep can both be problems that are stress related. If you are able to quell your stressful thoughts long enough to relax and fall asleep, research has found that stress can actually keep us from achieving REM sleep – that deep state of sleep we all need in order to wake up feeling truly rested. Not being able to achieve that sleep state can exacerbate stress even more.
Have you noticed that your hair seems thinner recently? If you’ve shrugged it off to age, consider this: increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) have been linked to a condition called telogen effluvium, the loss of more than 150 strands of hair per day. Some good news on this condition – once the stress stops, hair has been found to grow back.
You haven’t worked out or lifted anything heavy for weeks – yet your back, neck and/or shoulders persistently ache. These are the areas where we tend to hold stress and are also affected by the shallow breathing we do while stress. Shallow breaths originate from our neck and shoulders, which is why you may be experiencing pain in these areas.
You’ve had clear skin for much of your adult life – but now you’re breaking out like a hormonal teenager. If this sounds familiar, what’s happening to your skin is a similar process to the reason why break outs are so common in our teens. The extra cortisol our body makes in response to stress can also trigger an increased production of testosterone. This causes our skin to increase oil production, causing breakouts.