June 02, 2017 / Michael M. Siegel, MD
It’s no secret that stress is unhealthy. But besides feeling a little under pressure, just how does stress affect our mental and physical health? Discover stress’s effects on your well-being and take steps to relax.
How Stress Affects Your Brain
Stress can impact your brain in many ways. When you’re stressed, the hormone cortisol increases and can impact your brain’s ability to store new memories. And, a surge of adrenaline can lead to headaches or migraines. Additionally, stress can increase your risk of stroke and even decrease the amount of brain tissue in regions of the brain in charge or emotions and self-control.
Furthermore, stress can make it hard to calm down at night, making it difficult to get needed sleep and can even lead to insomnia.
How Stress Affects Your Heart
When you’re stressed, your blood pressure and heart rate increase. Over time, high blood pressure can weaken your heart muscle and cause it to work less efficiently. Research has also demonstrated a correlation between stress and heart attack.
How Stress Affects Your Body Composition
The hormone cortisol can also rev your appetite and drive cravings for high-calorie comfort foods. Reaching for junk food can pack on the pounds in and of itself, but research shows that cortisol leads to a greater storage of unhealthy belly fat, which is attributed with numerous health consequences (think diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, and inflammation).
How Stress Affects Your Immune System
You’re less likely to fight off common illnesses when you’re under stress. Research suggests that the body has fewer natural killer cells to fight off infection. Additionally, immune cells may be less capable of fighting off inflammation.
What Can You Do?
Know what triggers you and take steps to avoid stress. For example, if deadlines stress you out, try to create a schedule in advance that allows your plenty of time to complete your work.
It’s also important to decompress and relax. For some, this may mean doing yoga or other mindful practices. For others, reading, gardening, or talking with a friend can all be ways to clear their mind. Find what works for you and do it regularly.