How Stress Changes Your Body
We all know by now that stress affects your health, sneakily affecting your body’s internal functions to get ready to fight or take flight. But have you ever thought about how stress also changes how your body looks and feels? When chronic stress is messing with your digestion, sleep, and other processes, it’s inevitably going to take a toll on everything else. But don’t fret - once you know what’s happening, you can make changes for the positive.
Understand How Stress Changes Your Body
Knowledge truly is power, and when you know better, you can do better! Learning how your body responds to stress can be a huge “aha!” moment, and empower you to take back control of your health. It can be tempting to “power through” stressful days, or simply get used to them. But over time it takes a real toll on how you look and feel.
Here are a few ways stress changes your body:
- You Gain Body Fat. When you’re stressed, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Chronically high levels of cortisol not only increases fat storage, but can make you feel hungrier as well!
- Your Sleep is Disrupted. Not only can stress keep you up worrying, but high cortisol can make you feel more tired during the day and more awake at night. Disrupted sleep causes even more hormonal disruptions, making everything worse. You’re tired, hungry, and probably moody from lack of sleep.
- Your Body Hurts. Stress commonly causes your muscles to tighten up. Over time this can cause migraines, back and neck pain, and set you up for tightness-related injuries.
- It Affects Your Heart. High levels of stress hormones, elevated heart rate, and high blood pressure (all related to stress) can increase your risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Yikes!
- You Get Sick More Often. Stress can do a real number on your immune system, too. That’s because over time, communication between your body’s stress response centers and your immune system becomes disrupted. This has been linked to the development of chronic fatigue, depression, immune disorders, diabetes, and obesity.
- It’s Bad for Your Gut. Your digestion is easily disrupted by stress, and can manifest in different ways for everyone. The “fight or flight” response slows down digestive processes, there are extra stress hormones affecting everything, and your appetite is changed. This can lead to bloating, nausea, pain, acid reflux, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
- Sex Takes a Nosedive. The effects of stress can directly affect your libido, but so can all the side effects listed above. It’s hard to be in the mood when you feel bloated, tired, and you’ve got a headache. Not only that, but stress can disrupt your menstrual cycle and even your fertility.
Easy Ways to De-Stress
Your body is wired to handle short-term stress to get out of a jam, but it’s not set up to handle being “go-go-go” 24/7. With all of these very real ways stress changes your body, it’s essential to make time to destress. Luckily, there are ways you can calm your body so you feel instantly more balanced and in control.
Here are some things you can do to de-stress yourself:
- Move Your Body. Study after study shows how exercise can increase your body’s “feel-good” hormones and help reduce the stress-causing hormones.
- Practice Positivity. Create a daily positivity practice by reading or watching inspirational books and videos, practicing gratitude, or journalling. All of these will help you to create a positive, resilient mindset.
- Have Fun! Engage in hobbies or pastimes that make you feel good. Pick up an old hobby again or try something new! You may even make new friends while you’re at it.
- Help Others. Volunteering or performing kind acts for others actually releases the feel good hormones oxytocin and endorphins. You aren’t just helping others – you also are helping yourself.
Stress is a normal part of most people’s lives, but it shouldn’t be harming your quality of life. With only a few small tweaks to your day, you can change the harmful effects of stress on your body.
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