If I asked you to name one factor that influences nearly every disease known to humankind, you might say things like “water” or “oxygen.” These are valid responses — but yet another answer is “stress.”
Too much tension can worsen the symptoms of nearly any disease. The effect occurs because your mind and your body are intricately linked, and your mental state influences your levels of hormones and neurotransmitters that further impact how you feel. That’s why managing your stress is key to being healthy — here’s how it affects your various body parts.
1. It Shows on Your Face
As if you didn’t already have enough to worry about — too much stress can make you look old. Time under tension changes the proteins in your skin and weakens elasticity. When your dermis loses the ability to spring back, wrinkles form.
Excess stress can even affect your pearly whites. Too much tension causes dry mouth, and without adequate saliva, you can’t rinse away bacteria and food particles from tooth surfaces. As a result, you can develop tooth decay and gum disease.
Yes — it is possible to look stressed.
2. It Affects Your Mind
Have you ever tried focusing on a budget report when your mind was preoccupied with how to pay your rent? If you have, you understand that stress doesn’t improve your concentration ability.
Stress does improve focus in the short term — but the human stimuli response evolved when your most pressing crisis was fleeing an angry bear. Once you got far enough away, the threat abated and your levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol return to normal.
However, in the modern world, threats to your existence, like the prospect of losing your job and home, rarely entirely disappear. As a result, your body becomes numb to the effect of these hormones. Much like an alcoholic might need an entire bottle of wine to feel as tipsy as a non-drinker feels off one glass, chronic stress means these substances need a massive surge to get your attention.
When these hormones flood your system, it affects neurotransmitter levels, making concentration impossible. You might make unwise, even fatal, errors — like checking work-related email while stepping out into traffic.
3. It Blurs Your Vision and Causes Headaches
Do you spend long hours of screen time grinding out that budget report? If so, don’t be surprised if your eyes get a bit dry — particularly if you wear contacts. It’s enough to make an officer think you’re drinking when you’ve only been burning the midnight oil.
Staring at a computer screen is like standing outside at high noon without sunglasses. After a while, the glare will make your head pound. To minimize headaches, try using the twilight settings on your devices to cut the harsh blue-light wavelength, or, better yet, take a break.
4. It Curves Your Spine
If you lean in to squint at your screen day after day, your muscles and connective tissues begin to form adhesions. While most of these don’t cause symptoms, if a nerve fiber gets caught in the stickiness and repeatedly rubbed, you have a chronic pain problem that can become severe. It’s like the tag on your sweater itching the back of your neck every time you move, except it sends a jolt of agony to your brain.
Over time, it can become downright painful to sit up straight. Pay attention to your workplace ergonomics — but also get up and stretch now and then.
5. It Makes Your Joints Hurt
If you have an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know that living under pressure leaves you aching. 86% of patients cite stress as the number one cause of their RA flares.
The good news is, your pain is not all in your head. Stress increases inflammatory markers such as IL1 and IL6, and a blood test can measure the effects.
6. It Can Make You Gain Weight
If you heard weight-loss commercials talk about cortisol, the science isn’t all junk. This stress hormone picks up where adrenaline leaves off and prepares your body for a prolonged onslaught.
The problem is, excess cortisol prompts food cravings, particularly those for high-fat, high-sugar foods. Your body is trying to store the energy it needs for battle, but all the calorie-consumption in the world won’t rid you of your micromanaging supervisor — it will only make you gain weight.
7. It Can Mess With Your Sleep
Stress messes with sleep in several ways. Who hasn’t tossed and turned the night before their wedding or a crucial job interview? Adrenaline and cortisol keep you alert.
Furthermore, you might reach for social media like many folks when sleep proves elusive. However, the blue light wavelength electronic devices emit can interfere with melatonin production, a vital sleep hormone. You get a one-two punch of hormonal slumber disturbance if you keep your phone on your nightstand and reach for it when counting sheep.
8. It Damages Your Heart
Probably the most frightening of stress’ impacts is its effect on your heart. Too much tension elevates blood pressure, putting a strain on this organ and surrounding veins and arteries.
What’s disheartening is the effects of chronic stress might take considerable time to remedy. According to Professor Vaughan Macefield of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, the condition can rewire your brain to keep your blood pressure high. If you want to lower your cardiovascular disease risk, you need to tame your tension.
Managing Your Stress Is Key to Staying Healthy
For all the reasons above, managing your stress is key to staying healthy. You can avoid the adverse health effects above by taming your tension.