Health | Science

11 Ways Stress Hurts Your Body - And How To Stop It

Stress is good. Or at least a little stress can be.

Stress helped our ancestors escape from danger and react quickly, but in our modern life it just wears us down from the inside out. Read these 11 ways stress hurts your body, then find out how to keep stress under control.

1. Stress causes your body to release "stress hormones"

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Whether your brain senses danger or something else that requires your attention, it starts pumping out hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These substances have a lot of different effects on your body. While they help you focus and work hard in the short term, they wreak havoc on your body over time.

2. Stress raises your heartbeat

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One of the first reactions your body has to the stress hormones is telling your heart to pump more oxygen-enriched blood. While this might come in handy in a basketball game, the effort of keeping your heart pumping fast throughout the day takes energy away from the rest of your body and tires you out.

3. Stress raises your blood pressure

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With your heart pumping faster and more pressure in your bloodstream, it's no wonder stress is one of the causes for heart attacks and strokes. Cortisol also affects your artery walls, clogging them with plaque and leading to conditions ranging from hypertension to heart attacks.

4. Stress interferes with your sleep schedule

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If you notice you have a hard time falling asleep when you're stressed, it's probably because your heart is still pumping hard. Cortisol also keeps you feeling wakeful, which interferes with your sleep schedule.

Stress hormones also force your body to put repairing cells on the back burner, so your body recovers from injuries and illnesses more slowly.

5. Stress makes you sick

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Speaking of illnesses, your body's immune system becomes less of a priority when you're dealing with stress, which makes you vulnerable to all sorts of conditions.

6. Stress damages your digestive system

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Stress is one of the causes of IBS, because stress hormones affect your intestinal nervous system, which moves food from place to place in your stomach. It can also lead to constipation, or even cause heartburn by making your gut more sensitive to stomach acid.

Stress is also known to kill the good bacteria in your gut.

7. Stress makes you eat unhealthy food

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As your body pumps out more cortisol, you'll notice yourself feeling hungrier, because your body needs extra energy to keep itself going. Since you're feeling tired all the time, you're also prone to making bad decisions, like reaching for another donut.

8. Stress wrecks your insulin production

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Your pancreas is another victim of your body's stress hormone overload, since your cravings for sugar cause an imbalance in your bloodstream. That makes your pancreas hyperactive, which damages it leading to diabetes and other chronic conditions.

9. Stress makes it harder to burn fat

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Your body needs oxygen to metabolize fat and turn it into energy, and if you're oxygen deprived because of stress then you'll build fat. Stress hormones also promote the growth of "visceral fat" around your organs, which can lead to chronic diseases.

10. Stress shrinks your brain

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A study by the University of California at Berkeley found that, over time, stress literally changes your brain. The hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for learning, memory and stress control, is slowly broken down by stress.

11. Stress makes you age faster

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Natural aging is caused when your telomeres - the "caps" at the end of your chromosomes - break down over time, degrading your DNA. Stress causes telomeres to break apart faster, making you age more rapidly.

If you can relate to any of the symptoms we described, don't worry! We all feel stressed sometimes, but there are solutions to reduce stress and its nasty side effects:

  • Working out just a few hours each week can regulate your cortisol levels
  • Eating a healthy diet can counteract the worst effects of stress
  • And drinking plenty of water keeps you healthy in so many ways

Let's all focus on staying healthy and reducing the stress in our lives!