It’s a stressful world out there. Time-crunched, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed at work, home and school does not produce good health, just the opposite. Key among the culprits is stress, sometimes inevitable, but always requiring attention.
In order to begin to find effective approaches to deal with stress, it’s first important to know the many ways stress harms you. Here are 10 findings from research that show just how bad stress is for the human body.
High levels of financial stress can make you look older.
As if you don’t have enough to worry about, a new study published in July 2016 in the journal Research on Aging finds that people with high levels of financial stress looked older and appeared to have aged more over a nine-year period than people with a higher level of confidence in their financial control.
Women’s fertility may be negatively affected by stress.
Research finds that stress appears to lower a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant, particularly stress experienced around the time of ovulation. Stress disrupted the signaling between the brain and ovaries, reducing the chance of ovulation.
Stress can make you fat.
It’s not just that gooey chocolate donut that will add pounds to your frame, but a build-up of stress can wreak havoc by packing on weight. That’s the finding of researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine who say that stress triggers a hormone called Adams1 which generates fat in the human body. In addition to increasing your waistline, this stress-induced fat also accumulates around organs like the pancreas and liver, which increases risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Stress may wipe out benefits of a healthy diet in women.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that the prior day’s stressful events seemed to eradicate any health benefits women might have gained from eating a healthier breakfast that’s rich in “good” monounsaturated fats. The study’s lead researcher, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, said stress complicates the way the body processes food.
Early-life exposure to stress can lead to adult illnesses.
Researchers at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine studied zebrafish embryos chronically exposed to the stress hormone cortisol for just a few days and found that they developed into adults with signs of chronic inflammation and abnormal immune systems. Early-life exposure to chronically elevated levels of cortisol results in lasting developmental changes affecting processes in adult life that are critical to immune system function and regulation.
Stress may exact the greatest toll on younger women with heart disease.
A study of nearly 700 men and women with heart disease found that stress was harder on women aged 50 or younger. They were nearly four times than either men of the same age or older women to have reduced blood flow to the heart. Reduced blood flow can often lead to a heart attack. The study suggested that younger women, who juggle work, family and financial responsibilities and routinely feel stressed need better assessment of life’s stressors and more support coping with them.
Prolonged stress affects short-term memory.
A study from the University of Iowa found a potential link between stress hormones and short-term memory loss in older adults. High levels of cortisol – a natural hormone present in the body that surges when a person is stressed—are the culprit. Short-term spikes in cortisol help a person to cope and respond to life’s challenges, but abnormal spikes like those experienced during long-term stress can wreak havoc on memory by “weathering the brain.”
Stress is linked to breast cancer.
Researchers at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey are studying a link between stress and breast cancer, specifically in the p53 protein. The protein, say researchers, reacts to large numbers of stress signals. If p53 becomes malformed, it could spark an uncontrollable reaction, causing cells to continuously reproduce, and those cells would be considered cancerous. About one in eight women will develop aggressive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. According to the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, more than 40,000 women are expected to die in 2016 due to breast cancer.
Depression, emotional stress may cause type 2 diabetes.
Longitudinal studies suggest that not only depression, but also general emotional stress are associated with an increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.
Emotional stress is a trigger for eczema.
The National Eczema Foundation cautions that emotional stress is one of the common triggers for eczema, although it is not known why. In some people, their eczema gets worse when they realize they’re stressed, while others get stressed because they have eczema and their flare-up worsens.
Note that this is not an all-inclusive list of the ways stress harms you. Research continues to uncover how untreated stress punishes the body and mind. If you’re plagued by chronic stress, find effective ways to cope with it. This may include getting professional help, although there are many approaches you can take on your own, including meditation, mindful walking, prioritizing tasks, deep breathing, guided imagery and more.
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