Stress is natural. It is the way we physically and mentally react on good and bad things that are happening in our life. But with all things, it can be too much. And for most of us, we have too much stress. It is – sadly enough – part of living in the 21st century. Here are five ways stress affects your health.
I’ve asked you before: how often are you silent? How often do you have no noise around you? Have you got your phone and laptop or tablet switched off? No music on? No people talking around you? We often think we are resting by watching television or having a relaxing evening with friends and some beers, but for our nervous system we are not relaxing at that moment. Watching television, surfing on our phone or computer or spending time with friends gives us stress.
So how does stress affect your health? Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones and increasing your heart and breathing rates, which will bring more oxygen to your brain. So far so good. All these actions help you to cope with and respond to the stressful situation you are in. It becomes a problem when you are under stress for a long period of time. This can be due to too much work and an angry boss shouting at you. It can be because you lost somebody you loved deeply. It can be because you have noisy neighbors, barking dogs, yelling children or a highway next to your house. But it can also be because of sickness, war or any other (natural) disaster.
How stress affects your health
1 – Stress affects your love life
I’m a tantric yogi; so let’s start with your love life. In the beginning – for a man – stress can be beneficial. If we men are under stress we produce more testosterone; which can increase our sexual arousal. At the same time: stress is exhausting for our mind and our body. If you’re really tired you probably prefer to sleep than to have sex. Next to that: this extra testosterone is only short term. On the long term testosterone levels go down and with that sexual desire. Stress can even lead to impotence, because of the lower testosterone levels.
Women’s menstrual cycle can be affected by stress leading to irregular, heavier, more painful or no menstruation. If a women is pregnant and she is continually under stress it can effect her unborn child, who can have behavioral and developmental issues after being born.
2 – Stress ruins your heart
When you have stress your heart pumps faster. The stress hormones constrict your blood vessels and raise your blood pressure, making sure there is a lot of oxygen going to your brain and muscles to be able to fight or flight. When you have chronic stress your heart has to work overtime all the time. It’s not designed for this and the result can be problems with your blood vessels and heart itself. Bringing a stroke or heart attack closer by.
3 – Stress weakens your immune system
When you’re stressed you’ll get a cold sooner, the flu or any other disease or infection. Stress takes such a big toll on the body that it affects your immune system. Cortisol, one of your stress hormones, is the bad guy in this case. It’s role is pretty complex, but let’s say it prevents that your immune cells (the ones that have to fight invaders as bacteria and viruses) can do their work properly.
Not only our immune system is affected. When we are stressed we tighten our muscles. If we’re constantly under stress these tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain.
4- Stress makes you loose control
A bit of stress can make us respond quicker, perform better. But that is just a bit. Mostly when we’re under stress we loose control of our emotions. Even mild levels of stress can make us loose grip; neuro-scientists at New York University found out. The researchers taught their guinea pigs techniques to control stress,. Yet after they were put under mild stress (having their hands put in ice water) they were not able to calm themselves with these techniques at the moment they had to look at pictures of snakes and spiders.
5 – Stress makes you look older
We all want to look younger. The pharmaceutic industry earns millions with cremes and pills. But the best way to look younger is to stop leading a stressful life. Again it’s a technical story, but stress hormones shorten your telomeres. What? Your telomeres. These are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA. These caps protect your chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job. Without telomeres DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job. As a result you age faster: wrinkles, weak muscles, poor eyesight and so on.
Stress doesn’t only make you look older, but makes you fat as well. Because all your energy (and blood) goes to your muscles to be able to fight or flight your digestive system isn’t working properly. All the food in there isn’t processed, but just stored as fat. Having your digestive system not functioning properly can lead to constipation or diarrhea. At the same time: we tend to eat more if we are stressed. Researchers of the University of Miami discovered that people under stress consume 40 percent more food than when they are not under stress.