The effects of stress on your body
It’s time for stress and burnout to be seen as the dangerous epidemic it is.
Medical professionals call stress a “silent killer”, and with stress levels at an all-time high across the world, it’s something we just can’t ignore anymore. Stress doesn’t just take its toll on your physical and mental health. It can dramatically impact your productivity, work performance, interpersonal relationships… and that’s just the start of it.
Stress: the facts and figures
The Australian Psychological Society conducted recent research that found that 35 percent of Australians report experiencing high levels of stress in their lives, and 26 percent advised they feel severe levels of stress on a day-to-day basis. Burnout is an epidemic, with people working longer hours than ever before and the cost of living only increasing. And stress isn’t just an issue adults deal with. More children and teenagers than ever before are reporting feeling concerning levels of stress and anxiety.
It’s time for stress and burnout to be seen as the dangerous epidemic it is, one that can be just as detrimental to your quality of life as a physical ailment. After all, the effect it has on your body is disastrous.
Your body’s reaction to stress
Your brain is the most powerful organ in your entire body, and when you feel stress, it can manifest across your entire body, as well as directly impacting the brain itself.
Here’s how stress can affect just a few crucial parts of your body and its biology.
Brain: Studies have found that stress directly kills brain cells and has a dramatic shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex. This can result in memory loss, learning difficulties and lead to issues with problem solving and decision making. It also goes without saying that prolonged stress can lead to a range of mental health disorders including depression and anxiety. The brain is such a complex organ that these frightening effects of stress are only the beginning of how it is directly impacted.
Heart: When you’re experiencing stress or anxiety, one symptom that can arise is heart palpitations or chest pain . You can physically feel how stress impacts this all-important organ, so you can only imagine what’s going on under the surface. The effect of stress on the heart is vast. An increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are all side effects of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can all mean that your heart is literally a ticking time bomb as a result of severe stress.
Digestive system and bowel: Many people report experiencing digestive distress as a result of elevated stress levels. Studies have found that stress can cause esophageal spasms, which leads to uncomfortable heartburn and acid reflux. It also leads to a decrease in blood supply to the stomach, leading to cramps and inflammation. In addition, stress seriously exacerbates existing bowel and digestive conditions such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Crohn’s disease, and causes further inflammation of the colon, rectum and digestive tract. Digestive issues can severely affect your quality of life and confidence levels, and these worrying effects of stress are an excellent reason to work on lowering the anxiety you feel.
Skin: Your skin reacts to stress by producing stress hormones such as cortisol. In turn, this hormone elevation results in oily skin, pimples, acne, psoriasis, eczema and a range of other skin conditions. If you already have any of these conditions, stress will only make them worse. In times of high stress, many people even experience stress rash, hives or welts that seemingly appear out of nowhere. Your skin feels stress intensely - be kind to it.
Reproductive health and sexual organs: Stress affects both male and female sexual organs and reproductive health dramatically. In men, stress and anxiety can result in erectile dysfunction while both men and women can experience low libido and distraction from sex. Women experiencing high stress levels can experience disruptions in their menstrual cycle as a result of stress hormones wreaking havoc on estrogen and progesterone levels. When you do have a period, stress can mean it is much more painful, and it can also lead to PH imbalances and vaginal dryness.
These are just a few areas of your body that are directly impacted by stress, but they serve as an important reminder why we all need to prioritise lowering our stress levels for the long run.
How to lower your stress levels
There are many ways to relieve stress, and while some methods work for some, they may not necessarily work for others. Finding effective, long-term ways to lower stress is a very personal thing, but the basics are the same.
Living a life that is low-stress starts with the fundamentals. While we can’t always completely change our job or domestic circumstances to better improve our lives, there are many ways you can integrate stress-relieving tools into your routine. Exercise is not only a great stress reliever but keeps your body strong and your aforementioned organs healthy. Exercise releases endorphins - hormones that improve overall mood. These hormones work in direct competition with the harmful stress hormones we discussed earlier, such as cortisol. More happy hormones mean lower stress hormones. It’s simple.
Even something as simple as walking for at least 30 minutes per day can have a dramatic effect on your mood. Fitness classes that blend breathwork, stretching and cardio are brilliant for overall stress management - so sign up at that hot yoga class and sweat and stretch your way to serenity!
Diet is another way to combat stress - more on that in a minute!
There’s so many additional ways to banish your stress. Activities as simple as gardening, treating yourself to that dress you’ve been drooling over, having a long brunch with a friend or family member, going to the beach or boosting your Vitamin D levels by getting some (safe) sun exposure are all surefire ways to feel better. Talking or writing out what’s causing you stress or making you anxious is also surprisingly helpful at putting things in perspective and getting those pesky thoughts out of your brain.
Of course, if you are finding it impossible to manage your stress levels, it’s important to talk to a medical professional who will assist you in taking your first steps towards a calmer and more balanced life. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak - it means that you are strong, and taking direct action to improve your life. That is something to be applauded.
Eat your way to a stress free life
Your diet plays an important role in regulating your mood and keeping your stress levels in check. It goes without saying that stimulating foods and drinks can put your stress levels through the roof, while a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables can dramatically improve your overall physical and mental health. The Mediterranean Diet has been proven to be the best diet for overall mood improvement. We have a whole blog on how you can use food to combat stress and anxiety. Check it out!
Do you experience stress? Have you found effective ways to deal with it? Head over to our social media channels and interact with us there! We’d love to share your tips for leading a calmer life.