4 Ways Stress Affects Your Body

by Tori Telfer

Reading about how stress affects your health is one of the most stressful things you can do. You're already on edge about your overflowing inbox and the fact that it's pouring acid rain outside, when you come across articles like "How Stress Makes You Bald Immediately" and "The Chronic Stress Cycle and Your Terrible Acne." The more you read, the more your blood pressure rises, your heart rate increases, your arteries harden, and you immediately gain 20 pounds. You are now officially stressed out.

Even though it's an awful cycle, it's important to be aware of just how damaging chronic stress can be. While the knowledge might temporarily increase your stress levels, the thought that stress will give you wrinkles might just be enough to get you to finally sign up for that yoga class. And then you'll be the glowing queen of zen that you always knew you were, somewhere deep inside that stress-encrusted shell.

1. Headaches

Squeeze the skin between your thumb and forefinger. Now do the other hand. Doesn't that feel good? Sure, stress can give you a major headache, but now you have an accupressure trick to get rid of it when it hits.

2. Inflammed skin

Stress releases pro-inflammatory stress hormones and chemicals, which can lead to skin that's dehydrated and flushed, as well as worsening psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea. Now is the time to make your skincare routine extra spa-like. Work in a relaxing face massage every night, use gentle products with minimal ingredients, and incorporate meditation into your cleansing routine — it's been shown to help calm skin.

3. Weight gain

Sometimes, it's not the stress that causes you to gain weight, but the behaviors associated with stress — turning to comfort foods, overeating, alcohol consumption. But if you've been stressed out for a long time, your body just keeps pumping out cortisol, which increases your appetite; our ancestors used the initial stress surge of adrenaline to fight off the wooly mammoth, and then the resulting surge of cortisol to ravenously replenish all those lost calories, but since we're usually stressed while sitting in front of our computer screens, we haven't burned any calories to begin with.

First things first: don't beat yourself up for wanting some Ben and Jerry's after a hard day. You're not an acetic; that's a perfectly normal way to reward yourself. Second of all, I know you've heard this a million times, but exercise really does help with stress. Really. Getting your body moving will push the cortisol of your system.

4. A weakened immune system

Chronic stress can wear down your immune system, resulting in a host of other problems. Conveniently, you can strengthen your immune system and decrease stress levels at the same time: Take a nap, go on a long nature walk, meditate, take a yoga class, get coffee with a friend, go to counseling, watch a funny movie (seriously!), or make a ritual of drinking a relaxing cup of immune-boosting tea every morning.

5. Wrinkles

Well, sort of. A more accurate statement is that stress causes a host of reactions in your body that speed up the aging process. More specifically, oxidative stress, glycation, and diminishing telomeres are all accelerated by chronic stress. Isn't that the most stressful thing you've heard all day? Don't worry, I have the world's best cure:

Image: sodaniechea/flickr