Stress seems like an inevitable part of life. Work is stressful. Taking care of the house is stressful. Grocery shopping can be stressful. Even some movies can be way too stressful. (And don’t even get us started on trying to finish a boss fight in Dark Souls.)
And, to a certain extent, stress can be healthy. Research at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine found that short stints of stress can help fortify your immune system. But when that stress starts to exceed just a few minutes (or hours) and becomes a chronic routine; well, it’s not only your mind taking a beating.
Rather than bolstering your defenses, prolonged periods of stress can start to shatter your immune system. As a result, you become more susceptible to illness and disease. Stress can also affect cell function and lead to inflammation. Bottom line: managing your cortisol levels can be one of the best steps you take for your health.
Let’s look at a few ways your wandering worries could be tanking your health:
1. Stress Can Wreck Your Diet
A study in Frontiers of Psychology found that chronic stress can spike levels of glucocorticoids in your blood. These are your hunger hormones—the culprits behind your anxious adventures in the snack drawer. While these hormone levels are elevated, you’re more likely to want to eat which can lead to an unbridled appetite that will see you piling on the padding. Even worse, stress has been shown to ramp up cravings for unhealthy foods like chips and chocolates.
READ MORE: See Exactly Why You Can’t Stop Stress Eating
2. Stress Can Cause Chaos in Your Gut
According to a study published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, the stress hormone cortisol can trigger a slew of changes in your digestive system, affecting how your body breaks down and absorbs various nutrients. The result? You might find yourself suffering with cramps, diarrhea and stomach pain regularly.
3. Stress Can Spike Your Blood Pressure
Stress will tap into your fight-or-flight instincts to make sure your mind and body are firing on all cylinders. The knock-on effect, however, is that this response will turn up the valve on your blood pressure to make sure your muscles and organs have a steady supply of oxygen. In the short term this isn’t an issue. In the long run? Elevated blood pressure can lead to blockages and damaged arteries.
4. Stress Can Ravage Your Skin
Stress hormones can be brutal on your skin, ramping up oil production and leading to blemishes, spots and pimples. While you can keep this worry-born acne at bay with the right products, you’ll save money (and minutes on your morning routine) by addressing the source of these dermal drawbacks.
5. Stress Can Make You Sleepy
Chronic stress can take a major toll on your energy levels. With your body tense and primed for fight or flight, it’s not unusual to experience fatigue during stressful episodes. To make matters worse, various studies have found that stress can affect not only the quality of your sleep, but the number of hours you’re able to bag every night when your head hits the pillow. A pre-bedtime meditation session can help calm you down in time for your snoozing hours, but can also help you build resilience and regulate your stress levels the next day, too.
6. Stress Can Be a Major Pain in the (Head)
Chronic tension has been shown to trigger severe headaches. However, while this might seem like a biological consequence of high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate, research has found that many of these stress-induced headaches are the result of negative thought patterns. In other words, you’re committing major resources towards focusing on negative outcomes which puts strain on your already stressed-out psyche. The fix? Try to shift your perspective towards the positive outcomes instead. While the world could go up in flames, you might also be able to sidestep the apocalypse (at least just for today).
7. Stress Can Lead to Depression
A JAMA study found that between 20% to 25% of people who experienced a major stressful event went on to develop depression. That should be a serious wake-up call that you should be focusing on managing your stress levels. No worries; we’ve got you covered with three exercises that can help you calm down instantly.