New jobs, promotions, or life-changing decisions are exciting but stressful. Once we adapt to the situation, our stress levels may fall. However, many Americans suffer from chronic stress, which can lower heart health, increase blood pressure, and cause insomnia. You’re probably aware that stress isn’t good for you, but you may not have considered some of the more surprising ways stress affects the body and mind. People who suffer from chronic stress are more susceptible to several physical and mental problems.
Stress can take a toll on your body’s ability to resist infectious diseases. This can be a serious problem during flu season.
Affects Fertility and Hormones
Stress can also lower sperm count in men and make pregnancy less likely for women. When women experience chronic stress, estrogen and progesterone levels may fall, and levels of cortisol—the “stress hormone”—may go up. This hormonal disruption can cause menstrual problems and decrease sex drive.
Causes Memory Loss
One of the most surprising ways stress affects the body and mind is impeding cognitive functioning, which can cause memory loss. Interestingly, researchers have found that stress bolsters memory if it occurs right before learning. However, when research subjects experienced stress right before a memory recall test, performance declined. Stress can lead to other surprising mental health effects, such as the shrinking of areas of the brain or depression.
Leads to Weight Gain
Stress can cause weight gain for a number of reasons. The disruption in hormone levels can cause new fat cells to form, and heightened cortisol levels can cause your body to desire replenishment, resulting in cravings for fatty and sugary foods. Stress also interferes with your body’s normal reaction to insulin, leading to insulin resistance and even diabetes.
Causes Dull Hair and Skin Problems
People who have rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema may experience outbreaks because of stress. Others may experience hives or just feel itchy. Acne can appear or worsen, and hair may become dull or even fall out when you’re under chronic stress.
Body temperature may rise in reaction to stress. Researchers have found that anti-anxiety medications and therapy are more effective for these “psychogenic fevers” than traditional fever reducers.
Increases Likelihood of Sports Injuries
Researchers who studied a team of female soccer players found that heightened stress in the players resulted in greater risk of serious injury.
Affects Muscles and Joints
If you’ve ever awakened feeling sore, even when you didn’t exercise the previous day, your aches and pains may be stress-related. Stress causes muscles to tense up as they prepare for “fight or flight.”
Aggravates Asthma, Allergies, and Inflammation
Stress can intensify allergic reactions and even cause asthma attacks. Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can get worse when you’re under stress.
Stress affects us in a myriad of ways. Finding ways to ease stress in your life can improve both physical and mental health.