It's normal for people to sometimes feel stressed out, but if stress controls your life — or, you could relate way too much to that Jessica Jones line, when she says "Massages make me tense" — you might be doing some serious damage to yourself without even realizing it. There are many ways that stress affects your body, and a lot of the aftermath comes from how your body chooses to react when stressful moments are present. If you're going through these types of issues, believe me — you are not alone. In fact, WebMD estimates that between 75 percent and 90 percent of all doctor visits are somehow stress related.
Let's talk about hormones for a second, and not in an awkward middle school health way. When your body is stressed out it releases hormones, and also makes your heart beat a little bit faster. Weirdly enough, based on the extra oxygen you're getting during stressful times, your body is simply prepping itself to respond to things faster. That can also be why you feel a little short tempered when someone tries to bother you when you're knee deep in work — things are just moving at a faster rate internally.
Too much stress leads to distress, and obviously being in tense-mode 24/7 will start affecting your health negatively. Stress, like many other things, is only healthy in moderation. Here are a few ways that your stress is wreaking havoc on your body.
1. Your central nervous system gets out of whack
When you're stressed, your "fight or flight" response will be in high gear. Fight or flight is pretty much exactly how it sounds — if a predator enters your house, you'll have the urge to either fight the danger, or flee. Responses often come naturally, and it's your instinct to do what you can to survive the situation. It's not just home invasion that kicks this response into gear — the adrenaline will kick in the second you're in a moment that makes you feel unsafe. Those with anxiety often deal with this all the time. When you're feeling extra tense, your CNS might have a bunch of difficulty getting back to a normal level. That means your body will be prepared for danger way more than it should be.
2. Your blood pressure rises
Stress hormones have a major effect on blood pressure. And when your stress is chronic, your heart might suffer. Blood pressure numbers are pretty much the rate and strength in which your heart is pumping blood to the rest of your body, and if your numbers are often high based on feeling stressed out, you are more at risk for having a stroke or a heart attack.
3. Your glucose levels might become uneven
If you're familiar with diabetes, you're familiar with glucose levels. When you're under pressure, your liver produces extra blood sugar, or glucose, to try and make you a little more energetic. But, just imagine your glucose level when you're constantly under stress. With all of that extra blood sugar, you might not be able to process it at a normal rate. The American Psychological Association states that those who are at risk for type 2 diabetes based on excessive stress levels might be able to find relief by working on their stress management, which could end up being as effective as medication. (Obviously you should see your doctor first, to figure out your own, individual plan of attack.)
4. It can shrink your brain
That sounds really terrifying, and even a little fake, but yes indeed, science backs this up. In the Biological Psychiatry journal, researchers noted that humans who were going through extremely traumatic times often showed a reduction of gray matter in the parts of the brain that handle emotional functions. They also noted that a constant loss of gray matter might cause psychological issues down the line.
5. Headaches will be a sad part of your day
We all suffer from an occasional headache, but headaches and stress are definitely directly linked. And if your nerves and beating heart are ruining your sleep, headaches will get even worse. WebMD chatted with Jason D. Rosenberg, MD, director of Johns Hopkins Headache Center, who noted that a poor sleep schedule will increase your body's stress response. Stress headaches and tension headaches are, as you guessed, related to stress and tension in your body.
6. You might have irregular periods
Missing your period, if you're normally pretty scheduled, can be stressful by itself — especially if you're hoping to remain child-free. When you stop having your period based on stress, it's called secondary amenorrhea. Scientifically, the tension messes up with your hormones pretty badly, making your hypothalamus malfunction, which in turn, screws up the pituitary gland, which then affects your ovaries. It's a chain reaction of bad news. The good thing is that your gynecologist has seen this all before, so any kind of period irregularity should be brought up if you keep missing cycles.
7. You might be more susceptible to the common cold
When it rains, it pours. And if you're stressed out and sneezing, you might find it difficult to function all together. Studies have shown that those dealing with a lot of pressure were more likely to pick up viruses than those who were stress-free. "There's quite a bit of evidence that people under chronic, enduring stressors, when exposed to a virus, are more likely to develop a cold than people who aren't suffering stress. What we didn't really know is how stress gets under the skin, so to speak, to influence these diseases," Sheldon Cohen, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University told ABCNews. Nobody likes having a cold, so if you've felt like you've been in an endless battle with a cold this year, you might want to look at ways to reduce your stress levels.
Sound scary? It definitely is. But, all of this just adds to the list of reasons why stress management should be one of your top priorities. Not only will having a few stress-busting maneuvers up your sleeve help you beat your tension quickly, but they'll definitely be beneficial in the long run.
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