Are the Effects of Stress Quietly Hurting Your Health?

Effects of stress
Are the Effects of Stress Quietly Hurting Your Health?

The effects of stress don’t just weigh on the mind — they also damage the body. 

In fact, studies show that stress is involved in 75-90 percent of human disease. (1

How can stress affect your health in so many ways?

As it turns out, it all comes down to hormones and inflammation.

With that said, some stress is a natural part of life. 

However, chronic stress can lead to severe health consequences down the road. 

This article covers the most common short-term and long-term side effects of stress.

What Is Chronic Stress?

Chronic stress is a prolonged hormonal response to thoughts, feelings, and events. 

What Causes Stress?

For many of us, money is a major source of stress. 

Work is another big one and personal relationships can take their toll as well.

But believe it or not, diet, poor sleep and lack of exercise can also make stress worse. (2)

Ultimately, the brain decides which experiences are stressful and which ones aren’t. 

If it senses a “stressor,” the brain releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. 

As a result, your heart rate and blood pressure will increase and your digestion will slow down. 

Short-term Side Effects of Stress

In the short-run, you may experience the following side effects of stress:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Frequent illness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Nervousness

8 Long-term Effects of Stress

As chronic stress drags on, you might begin to experience more serious problems.

Studies show that the long-term side effects of stress can harm nearly every organ in the body. 

Eventually, serious medical conditions may develop. 

1. Chronic Inflammation

Chronic stress and chronic inflammation are two peas in a pod. 

It’s now widely accepted that inflammation is the root cause of most diseases. 

This is because chronic stress can cause tissues in the body to become resistant to cortisol. 

In other words, the immune system begins to lose its control over inflammation. 

As a result, inflammation can spread throughout the body and promote disease. 

For example, a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found that people with a poor inflammation response are more susceptible to colds. (3)

2. Autoimmune Disease

When the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, autoimmune diseases can present themselves.

By boosting inflammation, chronic stress can increase the risk of several autoimmune conditions, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Psoriasis 
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)
  • Lupus
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis

For example, one study found that PTSD can increase the risk of RA. (4)

At the same time, a separate study found that women who experience psychological trauma are three times more likely to develop lupus. (5)

3. Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health issues, and inflammation seems to play a major role. 

For instance, recent research links inflammation to the thought patterns associated with depression. (6)

Ultimately, patients with depression tend to focus on negative thoughts, and these thoughts can reinforce stress pathways in the brain. 

4. Anxiety

Stress is a big risk factor for anxiety as well. 

In fact, the same lifestyle factors that contribute to stress, like lack of exercise and poor sleep, can also increase anxiety. 

As it turns out, stressful events can literally change the structure of the amygdala: the fear center of the brain. 

Before long, the brain can develop neurotransmitter imbalances. 

For example, overactive glutamate and underactive GABA can make stress and anxiety worse.  

In one 2015 study, researchers found that work and home stress are associated with anxiety in both men and women. (7)

5. Memory and Brain Function

Unfortunately, the mental health effects of stress don’t just stop with anxiety and depression. 

Shockingly, chronic stress can even cause the brain to shrink…literally! (8)

For example, animal studies have shown that stress can reduce memory and shrink the hippocampus. (9)

Researchers have also documented poor verbal memory and brain shrinkage in Vietnam War veterans with PTSD. (10)

Fortunately, these changes can be reversed. 

6. Heart Disease

When it comes to your ticker, stress can hurt. 

Many of the risk factors for heart diseases, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar are linked to stress. 

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, stress can promote plaque buildup in the arteries. (11)

In fact, even minor stress can reduce blood flow to the heart. 

Plus, long-term stress may thicken the blood and increase the risk of stroke.

To top it all off, people who are stressed tend to overeat, exercise less, and smoke more, all of which are bad for the heart.

7. Digestive Disorders

High levels of cortisol can weaken the gut lining and increase the risk of digestive disorders. (12)

This is because the brain communicates directly with the gut via the “gut-brain axis.”

Over time, stress signals coming from the brain can have negative effects on gut bacteria. 

This is bad news for inflammation because the body needs healthy gut bacteria to protect the bloodstream. 

Once inflammation enters the bloodstream, it can spread to the brain and make stress worse. 

8. Obesity and Diabetes

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are closely linked, and stress is a strong risk factor for both. (13)

For starters, stress tends to increase cravings for carb-heavy “comfort foods.” 

Carbs and sugar spike blood sugar and lead to insulin resistance. 

Plus, carbs and sugar get stored in the body as fat. 

To make matters worse, sugar is addictive, leading to worse food cravings and more overeating. 

Finally, stress hormones, sugar, and carbs can all weaken the gut lining by fueling bad gut bacteria. 

Feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers for more advice about the negative effects of stress. 

We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about relieving chronic stress for good.