It increases the risk of diabetes
Stress puts the body into fight or flight mode. Through evolution, the body has learned to pump energy into the limbs and enable you to either fight or run from danger more effectively. Most people who struggle with stress know that evolution isn’t perfect, and the body often pumps you full of glucose for anything as mundane as reading a ‘we need to talk’ text. All that extra glucose puts a lot of pressure on the pancreas, which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
It affects your sexual health
While it’s common knowledge that stress can result in a reduced sex drive, prolonged stress can actually have a much more impactful result on your overall sexual health. In the short term, the stress in men can cause a flush of testosterone, but this doesn’t last and soon levels begin dropping below healthy ranges. Perpetual stress has been linked to lower sperm counts and erectile dysfunction, as well as an increased risk of prostate and testicular infections.
It can cause digestive problems
Chronic stress is shown to increase the amount of stomach acid your body produces, which is linked with acid reflux and heartburn. While these are relatively small discomforts for many, they can also affect more severe issues. While stress does not cause stomach ulcers – that would be a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori – it can increase the risk of getting them and make them more severe when they do occur. Stress also causes problems when digesting food through the stomach and intestines, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
It worsens mental health
Stress affects your brain in the way all mental illnesses do, and like the rest, can have a cascade effect that makes their effects worse, leading to a vicious cycle. Stress affects dopamine levels in a similar way to depression. While depression is a long-term lowering of dopamine, stress can cause fluctuations both up and down. This can cause bursts of short-term desire for things like sugary food or for those predisposed to enjoy them, drugs and alcohol.
It can cause weight gain (and weight loss)
Aside from the usual cravings for comfort food many experiences during bouts of stress, stress can also affect your body’s weight on a more biological level. Cortisol, a steroid hormone, is released into the blood when a person is stressed, and while it is an essential chemical for a healthy body, too much or too little can cause a myriad of issues. An excess of cortisol stops the body from breaking down fat, which can make it harder to lose and keep off weight. Conversely, some bodies respond by decreasing the amount of cortisol produced after prolonged stress, which can decrease appetite and fat storage.
It can cause rashes and hair loss
Someone’s appearance can often be a source of stress in and of itself. Not liking your skin or hair can cause deep insecurities that manifest in excess stress. In a show of ironic cruelty, stress can cause multiple skin issues, including acne and rashes causes by cortisol which produces extra skin oils. Prolonged, chronic stress can also cause hair loss, though the exact reason behind this link is not well-known by scientists.
It can cause pain all over the body
While ‘stress headaches’ are fairly common, they are not the only kind of ache and pain caused by stress. The fight or flight instinct hardens muscles and pumps them with energy to protect you and enable action, which usually dissipates when the brain realizes the danger is gone. When stress is prolonged, your muscles remain in that state to the detriment of your musculoskeletal health. This can cause aches, cramps, joint pain and even progress into chronic health conditions if left untreated.
It wreaks havoc in the heart
Short-term stress increases the heart rate to make you more alert and ready for battle. The repeated short-term stress is shown to cause inflammation and damage to the arteries surrounding the heart, and long-term effects are even more dangerous. The main risk is the increased chance of a heart attack, but as this is caused by raised blood pressure, there’s also an increased likelihood of similar conditions, like strokes, heart disease, and extra strain on the kidneys.
It can affect memory
The human brain is not well equipped to navigate traumatic or stressful events while maintaining its usual quality of detail and pattern recognition. Instead, the survival mode your body goes into is mirrored in the brain, focusing on self-preservation above all. This can be helpful in real life or death situations, but as much of our stress centers around work and social life, it becomes easy for chronic stress sufferers to forget or misremember details of important things that cause them anxiety.
It can worsen or cause depression
Stress is fairly easy to recognize in others, and can understandably lead to them acting out of character, being quick to anger, or feeling fidgety. Social interactions alone can cause stress for some people, but those prone to stress who also experience it socially are likely to withdraw themselves from interactions. Stress goes hand in hand with conditions like depression and anxiety, which cause a complex shotgun of emotional reactions to stimuli; it is often easier, if not exactly healthier, for those dealing with these to simply isolate themselves.