We often describe our lives as a grindstone, filled with stress. What few of us realize, however, is just how damaging this stress can be on our overall health. Women, in particular, have too many things on their plates. They have to make ends meet, don’t get enough sleep, take care of the children, run the household, have long commutes, and undergo high pressure workdays. Unfortunately, all this stress can cause irreversible damage, including long term disability, heart problems, and early aging.
Interestingly, some people believe they work better under pressure. However, this is rarely true. In fact, the opposite is true – stress generally leads to more mistakes. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which stress can damage our health.
1. You Will Find It Hard to Control Your Emotions
People who are stressed often have angry outbursts. Just how bad this can be has been demonstrated in a 2013 PNAS study.
Our results suggest that stress markedly impairs the cognitive regulation of emotion and highlights critical limitations of this technique to control affective responses under stress.
2. Stress Can Make You Ill
Certain people are more likely to develop certain illnesses. Those who experience chronic stress are more likely to allow those illnesses to develop as well. Some of the diseases include cirrhosis of the liver, fatal accidents, lung disease, and cancer. Suicide is also possible. Additionally, a Johns Hopkins University study has linked chronic exposure to stress in children to mental illnesses.
Stressed children are vulnerable to these disorders as well as: sleep disturbances (including nightmares and bed wetting), skin diseases, and infections. Like adults, they become more accident prone. Research suggests that even physical conditions with a genetic basis – like asthma, allergies, and diabetes—can be adversely affected by childhood stress.
3. Stress Affects Your Love Life
Sex is a great way to relieve stress. However, stress in itself can significantly affect your libido. This was shown by various studies, particularly in a 1984 Archives of Andrology study.
Many forms of stress, including psychological, can affect male fertility and reproduction. The autonomic nervous system and the adrenal hormones participate in the classic stress response while also affecting the reproductive system. Evidence exists that mild-to-severe emotional stress depresses testosterone and perhaps interferes with spermatogenesis in the human male.
Performance anxiety, a specific type of stress, is particularly likely to affect male libido. Additionally, if a pregnant woman experiences a lot of stress, her children can develop developmental and behavioral problems.
4. Stress Can Affect Your Teeth and Gums
A lot of people develop physical reactions, including tics, when they are stressed. Commonly, they start to grind their teeth. This is often an unconscious thing that happens during sleep, but it can cause permanent damage to both the teeth and the jaw. Additionally, a Know Your Teeth Study has linked it to gum disease.
There’s definitely a link between stress and dental health. Stress affects the immune system, which fights against the bacteria that causes periodontal disease, making a person more prone to gum infection.
This study, which was completed in 2012, showed that there are many external factors that can lead to periodontal disease, including lack of romantic involvement, and the pressures of work, parenthood, and marriage. Additionally, people who had a highly emotional reaction to financial stress were at the greatest risk of developing gum disease.
5. Stress Negatively Affects Your Heart
By being stressed, your heart muscle can become damaged. This is because stress hormones make your heart beat faster, while constricting the blood vessels at the same time. Hence, your heart has to work much harder, increasing your blood pressure. The American Institute of Stress has reported that when people experience major stress, such as during tsunamis, earthquakes, or hurricanes, it is more likely for them to have a heart attack, as well as sudden death.
Coronary heart disease is also much more common in individuals subjected to chronic stress and recent research has focused on how to identify and prevent this growing problem, particularly with respect to job stress.
6. Stress Can Lead to Weight Gain
When we were still hunter gatherers, harsh environmental conditions made us eat as much as we could whenever there was some food, allowing us to survive in time of scarcity. This is a compulsion that we have not evolved out of yet. When we get stressed, this ancient behavior comes out again. This was uncovered by a study at the University of Miami’s School of Business.
It is clear from the studies that taste was not what caused the reactions, it was a longing for calories. These findings could have positive implications for individuals in the health care field, government campaigns on nutrition, and companies promoting wellness. And, certainly beware of savvy food marketers bearing bad news.
Indeed, calorie intake was increased by as much as 41% when people received bad news about their finances. The conclusion of the report was that people should not expose themselves to stressful situations, such as watching the news, just before they ate their dinner.
7. Stress Makes You Age More Quickly
People who are chronically stressed also age much more quickly. This was discovered by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.
In summary, in healthy women, psychological stress is associated with indicators of accelerated cellular and organismal aging: oxidative stress, telomere length, and telomerase activity in PBMCs.
When telomeres get shorter, new cells grow much slower, which leads to premature aging.
8. Stress Impacts Your Immune System
It is important not to forget the link between mind and body. When someone is stressed, however, their immune system suffers, which means they are more likely to get infections. This has been demonstrated by the American Psychological Association.
All of these findings extend what we know about how stress management and interpersonal relationships can benefit day-to-day health, doing everything from helping us combat the common cold to speeding healing after surgery. The research is in synch with anecdotal reports of how people get sick in stressful times, but understanding exactly how psychology affects biology helps scientists to recommend the best ways we can build up immunity.
9. Stress Can Leave You Permanently Disabled
Last but not least, stress can actually lead to permanent, or long lasting disabilities. A five year Swedish study demonstrated this.
After taking into account other factors that might affect the results, the team found that even mild levels of stress raised the risk of receiving disability benefits by up to 70 percent, according to the report published online March 23 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.