In today’s world, we hear the word ‘stress’ a lot; so much so it’s almost lost its meaning entirely. Stress, as well as chronic stress, is exceedingly common but it also poses serious health consequences.
Stress, emotional or physical, can affect the function and well being of all bodily systems.
Stress in any form causes our bodies to fall out of homeostasis as the body works to recalibrate and adjust to the state of stress. Because of this, the state of stress is not sustainable without the increased risk of serious health consequences.
Medical research estimates that 90 percent of all illness and disease is stress-related. Stress that is left unrecognized and unchecked can increase the risk of heart disease, depression, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and gastrointestinal issues.
What is stress exactly?
Stress is defined as the body’s emotional or physical reaction to a demand from a situation or stimulus. The bodily response to a stressor is called stress.
Stress can be caused by a demand that is emotional, chemical, environmental, and or physical. Stress can be caused by an endless list of things. Some common causes of stress are personal loss, demands of a job or relationship, food allergies, disease, mental illness, as well as physical and emotional trauma.
Stress is experienced by everyone to some degree. However, some people experience high levels of emotional and physical stress for sustained periods of time. This is what is called chronic stress. Chronic stress can exacerbate current issues and be the direct cause of new problems.
Surprising ways stress can affect the body
While the body is dealing with the constant threat of stress, other systems fall to the wayside as the body is deregulated by stress. This can cause peculiar, surprising, and undesirable effects on the body.
1. Stress can cause hair loss and premature greying
If you’ve ever experienced hair loss, you know it’s extremely distressing and stressful. But did you know, stress and anxiety can actually induce sudden hair loss?
Studies have shown that stress and anxiety can contribute to Alopecia Areata which can cause large clumps of hair to suddenly fall out, leaving sporadic patches of baldness. This type of hair loss normally corrects itself and grows back but hair loss treatment may be required.
Stress can also cause the premature loss of pigment to hair, causing premature greying of hair. The saying “you’re going to cause me to go grey!” is actually somewhat true. Chronic levels of stress can cause premature greying.
2. Stress can affect sexual function and desire
Stress can greatly impact the sexual functioning of both men and women. This might affect men as situational erectile dysfunction, or as the inability to reach climax. Both are treatable conditions if the problem persists beyond the stressful or anxiety-inducing situation.
Chronic stress can lower men’s testosterone levels which may also cause erectile and fertility problems.
For both men and women, stress can also affect levels of sexual desire and can cause low libido.
3. Stress can cause missed menstruation and fertility problems
Clearly, stress can affect reproductive health for both men and women. For women, this could manifest as missed menstruation. Stress can delay your period, but it is likely to return to normal. If you’ve missed your period for more than 6 weeks, it might be time to see your doctor.
Extreme stress can affect your fertility but is not likely to permanently cause fertility problems. This may cause difficulty in getting pregnant.
4. Stress can weaken your immune system
Immunity is what keeps our bodies from getting sick with viruses and pathogens. Stress can throw a wrench into our immunity systems can cause weakened immunity, causing higher susceptibility to infections and illnesses. When stressed, our body can experience a reduced ability to fight off antigens.
5. Stress can speed up premature cellular aging
Stress can actually cause our bodies to prematurely age. Telomere length is a biomarker for biological and cellular age; chronic levels of stress can cause the shortening of telomeres. The telomeres act as a protective shield, but as these shorten, our cells age and lose the ability to divide rapidly.
This can cause the cell turnover rate of the skin, lungs, gut, and bone marrow to slow. This happens naturally as we age, however, stress can speed this process.
Return to baseline for optimal health
Stress management is often the suggested course of treatment for some problems like erectile dysfunction, reproductive issues, gastrointestinal disruptions, and skin conditions. This is because many health professionals understand the likely cause of the issue stems from chronic and untreated stress.
The big danger of stress is the cycle that it can cause. For instance, unchecked food sensitivity might simply cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea to begin with; but the chronic stress caused by the ignored food sensitivity could cause chronic inflammation which can lead to gastrointestinal disease. Stress, no matter the kind, is a slippery slope and should be treated seriously.
Stress management may come in many different forms. For some, stress management might look like regular exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, or talk therapy. There is a form of effective stress relief for everyone. To avoid these surprising health effects, treat the cause first, and manage stress.