How Being Stressed Out Can Affect Your Wellbeing

by Isadora Baum, CHC

When you're having a bad day or are feeling overwhelmed with work, relationships, schedules, and really just life in general, it can be hard to not let that negativity and stress affect you. Unfortunately, stress can harm our wellbeing, as explained by the American Psychological Association, so it's critical to keep the levels low as often as possible and to be able to grasp greater control over your emotions and behaviors. Having a rescue plan is a good call.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on understand their bodily and mental reactions to their emotions, and stress is a primary feeling that we often discuss in sessions. As stress is so prevalent in this busy age, due to hectic schedules, errands, work, social obligations, and financial anxieties, among others triggers, it's hard to keep it under control and not let the negativity hinder our abilities to feel happy, healthy, and productive during the day. Stress can affect us in all kinds of ways, and people react differently depending on their particular behaviors, anxieties, and natural tendencies. Either way, stress has got to go. Here are 11 ways that stress can affect our wellbeing, and why it should be tamed asap.

1. It Can Mess With Your Hormones

Your hormones control your body and minds, explains personal trainer and owner of South Loop Strength & Conditioning in Chicago, Todd Nief, over email with Bustle. Nief describes the difference between a balance and an imbalance, and how imbalances can be dangerous over time. "The stress response causes quite a few different hormonal cascades - all of which can be beneficial if there is a balance between times of stress and times of relaxation. However, if the stress response becomes excessive, there can be downstream effects from chronic activation of these pathways," Nief says.

2. It Can Mess With Your Appetite

"One of the more interesting aspects of the stress response is its ability to cause both overeating and undereating across the population (I personally am an undereater when stressed)," says Nief. "Stress hormones like cortisol play an important role in mobilizing blood sugar, but we end up with an interesting dichotomy in that corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) inhibits appetites and glucocorticoids stimulate appetite. So, the folks who overeat when stressed may have a tendency to produce more glucocorticoids or may clear them from the bloodstream more slowly," Nief explains. Set a reminder to eat regular meals in the day.

3. It Can Make You Less Muscular

Even if you workout regularly to build lean, healthy muscles, chronic stress can eat away at them and make you look less muscular over time, advise “Charles Galanis, MD, in Chicago, Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and Robert Dorfman, Research Fellow at Northwestern Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, over email with Bustle. Clear stress to keep your hard-earned muscle.

4. It Can Weaken Your Bones

Galanis and Dorfman caution that stress can "weaken your bones," and this can lead to various conditions, such as injury, chronic over-use soreness, and injuries, higher risk for osteoporosis or low bone density, and higher risk for falls and slips due to a weakened, more brittle structure. Protect your bones by reducing the amount of stress you have during the day.

5. It Can Mess With Your Weight

Elevated levels of stress over time can cause fluctuations in weight due to "increases in fat production" and "increases in salt and water retention," leading to "disruptions in overall metabolism," advise Galanis and Dorfman. Feeling out of control and bloated is often uncomfortable, and it's better to maintain a balance for health and wellbeing.

6. It Can Lower Your Immune System

Ever notice that you might catch the common cold when you're under a lot of stress at work or working tirelessly to meet a deadline? You're spot on. Chronic stress can lower the immune system, explain Galanis and Dorfman. It also "impairs normal healing and digestion," Galanis and Dorfman say, which are two factors that go along with an immunity response and reaction time.

7. It Can Hurt Your Heart

Unfortunately, persistent levels of chronic stress can mess with our heart health, and this can be dangerous, as it increases risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and other serious health conditions, warn Galanis and Dorfman. You can expect "increased blood pressure" that "stresses the heart" and can pose challenges for heart health and wellbeing.

8. It Can Make You Sleepy

Inability to get adequate shut-eye, as well as encountering moments of brain fog and lack of focus is prevalent when one is under an immense amount of stress, explain Galanis and Dorfman. "Elevated cortisol levels can also affect our mental function and sleep patterns," Galanis and Dorfman say. Keep yourself alert with energizing food, and stick to a set sleep routine, in order to achieve 7-9 hours nightly.

9. It Can Create A Cycle

Being too stressed out can create a cycle, one that is incredibly hard to escape from, say Galanis and Dorfman. "All of these factors can set off a viscous cycle whereby stress begets more stress," Galanis and Dorfman continue. Lowering stress each day can help you avoid falling into this pattern, and it will be easier to stay healthier and happier over time if you're able to avoid the trap.

10. It Can Make You Irritable

Being overly stressed can mess with our moods, advise Galanis and Dorfman, and sadly, our moods are usually negative, irritable, and morose, rather than optimistic and cheerful. If we are too stressed out, we might even alienate people due to our negative energy (which no one likes being around!). If you see you're snapping, check in with yourself, apologize, and refresh.

11. It Can Cause Headaches

According to experts at Healthline, headaches are often common in stressful situations, due to the neural pathways response to the "fight or flight" sensation and the muscular reaction of "tensing up" as a form of protection. Relax your muscles, try and calm the body down, and rub your temples if feel a pounder coming on.

If you notice yourself feeling stressed on a regular basis, it can be hurting your body and can lead to dangerous conditions over time. There is a happy place for stress, such as in scary situations or when toughing it through a high-intensity exercise class; however, if this stress becomes chronic, it can wipe these benefits and lead to damaging consequences.

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