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8 Frightening Ways Stress Can Affect You

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Whether from short-term circumstances, like being stuck in traffic, or more long-term stressors like divorce or moving, stress has a pretty profound impact on our bodies. Sometimes that impact is a good one, like when small amounts of stress motivate you or improve your memory or performance. Constant or excessive amounts of stress can be harmful to your body, however, and lead to some pretty frightening health implications. The good news is that, while stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life, there are plenty of ways to control how much stress affects your body. The use of meditation, relaxation, exercise and other stress-reduction techniques can go a long way in minimizing stress’s impact in your life. Below are the top ways stress can impact your body.

8. Weight Gain

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When your body perceives a threat, which can be anything from actual physical danger to an irate boss or being stuck in traffic, your brain releases a cocktail of stress hormones, including adrenaline, CRH and cortisol. These hormones prepare your body for a threat by increasing alertness, preparing you to take action and getting your body ready to sustain injury, in case it comes to that. Adrenaline actually reduces your appetite for a short time, but as the adrenaline wears off, cortisol takes over, triggering the body to replenish the food supply. If the threat was that you were being chased through the wildnerness by a pack of wild animals, this makes perfect sense. You’d need to replenish the energy you burned off by running away. When you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic after a long day of sitting in your chair at the office, however, the need to refuel is pretty much non-existent, but that doesn’t stop your body from triggering an intense craving for food. In response to the trigger, you eat. In today’s fast-paced world of constant high-stress, this can quickly lead to regular overeating and weight gain.

Not only can stress cause you to eat more, but studies also show that the stress hormone cortisol may affect how your body stores fat, while increasing the size of fat cells at the same time, specifically in the abdominal area. What that means is not only do you eat more and gain weight, but you also store more fat in your abdomen, and your body is more than happy to make room for all that extra fat by increasing the size of the fat cells. In short, too much stress on a consistent basis means you’re likely to end up with extra belly fat that’s difficult to get rid of later on.

7. Stroke Risk

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Constant amounts of stress, especially in older people, can increase the risk of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). This is especially true with the depressive symptoms that often go hand-in-hand with daily, unmanaged stress. In fact, living with constant stress can increase your risk of stroke by as much as four times compared to less-stressed people. This is due to a consistent increase of inflammatory hormones present in the body while under stress, which can lead to deterioration of arteries and compromised blood flow to the brain. In addition to the chemical effects on the body, stress can also lead to lifestyle habits that increase the risk of stroke, such as smoking, drinking and a poor diet.

6. Heart Problems

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One of the biggest risk factors associated with stress is heart disease. As with the increased risk of stroke, deterioration of blood vessels can lead to permanent damage to arteries, which can result in serious cardiovascular problems. In fact, highly-stressed people have as much as a 27 percent greater chance of having a heart attack than people who keep stress levels in check. That’s roughly the same effect on the heart as smoking five cigarettes a day. Let that sink in.

In addition to increasing the risk of heart attack, high levels of stress can also affect how well you survive a heart attack. Stressed out people have as much as a 42 percent greater chance of actually dying within two years after being hospitalized for a heart attack.

5. Common Colds are Worse

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If you’ve always joked about too much stress making you sick, you might actually be right. Reducing your stress levels each day can greatly reduce your risk of getting sick, as well as how well your body fights off the illness.

 

Stress can have a big impact on your immune system, and even make your cold worse than if you weren’t so stressed out all the time. The reason behind this is cortisol, the stress hormone your body produces when you’re under stress, which can make your body’s inflammatory processes go haywire, and if you’re under enough stress, you could even short-circuit your body’s ability to fight off that annoying cold. In fact, if you’re under a lot of stress on a regular basis, especially when cold season strikes, you’re much more likely to catch that cold in the first place.

4. Brain Size

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Did you know that stress can actually shrink your brain? Studies show that, even in otherwise healthy people, stress can take a big toll on the brain. According to research, highly stressful situations such as divorce, job loss or other major life changes can reduce the gray matter associated with physiological functions and emotions. In addition, researchers believe these changes to the brain, however slight, can signal possible psychiatric problems in the future. Accumulating stressful life events over a period of time can also make dealing with stress more difficult, creating a catch-22 that can snowball into bigger problems later on. While much of the stress in life may be unavoidable, learning to manage the stress that does come your way can go a long way in preventing future issues, and may also make you more able to deal with stress later on.

Anna enjoys blogging about a variety of topics, from fashion and beauty to food and travel. Find Anna on LinkedIn!

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