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5 Ways Stress Affects Your Body

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(Photo: iStock)

We’ve all experienced some kind of stress in our daily routines. Whether it’s immediate frustration like waiting in line or a prolonged distress like job loss or divorce, psychological stress has a way of disturbing our health.

With 75 to 90 percent of Americans reporting stress-related ailments upon doctor visits, our bodies evidently respond to stress in numerous and complex ways. Ultimately, it can lead to a decrease in immune response by releasing substances and chemicals that alter our bodily functions.

Breakouts
In a perfect world, we’d have clear skin every day. However, if you can’t properly release pent-up stress, you get zits — especially on that coveted first date. Of course, breakouts cause anxiety and more stress, leading to more pimples.

While many adults still experience acne well into their 30s, academic studies suggest psychological and physical stress can trigger breakouts by calling for the release of cortisol. Acute stress can cause occasional acne, but chronic and continual stress increases hormone levels by leading your body to stimulate oil glands for more testosterone production, thus clogging pores.

Sleep
There’s nothing quite like getting into bed after a long day and just falling asleep effortlessly. Unfortunately, the American Psychological Association reports 43 percent of adults in the U.S. lie awake at night due to overwhelming stress.

Since cortisol follows a natural circadian rhythm, if we don’t get enough sleep every night due to our rampant anxious thoughts, we adversely influence our body’s cycle. This disruption not only causes hyperarousal where we can’t feel sleepy, but we put ourselves at risk for developing sleep disorders.

Cravings
We know what our burger and cheese pizza cravings mean but when everything seems dandy, do you still wonder why you’re reaching for that pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream? The University of California at San Francisco discovered eating sugary foods pacifies stress signals in the brain, leading us to seek continuous comfort by consuming more sweets.

It's a difficult habit to break, as cortisol triggers sugar and fat cravings when stress and anxiety levels loom high, leading to emotional eating. Additionally, poor eating habits perpetuated by stress increase the amount of fat tissue and enlarge the size of fat cells, adding to belly fat. 

Immunity
You take vitamins and load up on citrus recipes, yet are still experiencing the agony of a cold. We understand your frustration. But did you know stress is the culprit? As our body’s form of defense, our immune system works together to fight off infection and disease. However, when stress is prolonged it becomes chronic and creates inflammatory conditions that lower immunity.

Carnegie Mellon University reports if stress lasts longer than a month, you risk developing frequent colds as immune cells become less sensitive to the hormone that turns off inflammation.

Pain
If you wake up one morning and feel like you overdid it with cardio yesterday (without actually over-exercising), chances are stress strikes again. As your body sees it, if you can’t relax mentally, why should your body? Stress can set off a response of tightening muscles, creating aches and pains. The University of Kansas discovered those with back pain are more prone to anxiety and negative thinking, whereas Ohio State University correlated anger and mental distress to causative back pain.

According to Dr. Jay Winner, author of Stress Management Made Simple, women who lead challenging lives are twice as likely to suffer aches and pains than women with less hectic lives. When we experience stress, our body produces hormones that intensify muscle tension and pain sensitivity affecting the neck, shoulders, jaw, face, lower back and stomach.