Living a high stress life is not without its consequences, and some of these consequences are severe. Even before the global pandemic of 2020, constant stress had become a part of our lives, so much so that most people had simply just learned to live with it.
While it’s true that a certain level of stress is unavoidable, there are a number of signs that stress is not only controlling your life but also profoundly impacting your body in several alarming ways. You could be damaging your immune system, harming your skin, and even setting yourself on the path to serious health problems down the road.
Stress comes in two forms; acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) stress, and it is important to understand that the effects of stress varies between individuals, and this is dependent on their personalities, and various other physical or mental factors.
You’ve got a weakened immune system.
Chronic stress can leave your immune system in a seriously weakened state. When we’re stressed, our bodies release the hormone cortisol to control inflammation. In the short-term, this is a good thing. The trouble starts when that stress sticks around for the long haul.
Over time, all that extra cortisol leads to more inflammation and lower lymphocyte (white blood cell) levels. In a nutshell, living in a constant state of stress can make you much more vulnerable to infections, viruses, and illnesses.
You’re having trouble remembering things.
An especially stressful incident can make you feel like you’re finding your way through a smokey room for the rest of the day. In these moments, it’s hard to concentrate on anything besides what is stressing you out. Stress can make forming new memories more difficult and impede the recollection of older memories.
Additionally, constant stress frequently results in mental exhaustion, which is linked to memory issues. A research was found that a group of participants still showed signs of memory trouble three years after their mental exhaustion had passed.
Your muscles are tense and staying tense.
Stress puts the entire body in a heightened, on-guard state of awareness. Your muscles aren’t spared; our muscles tense up to protect us from potential injury in response to stress, and that constant stress results in some serious muscle tension and associated pain fairly quickly.
All that muscle tension can lead to neck pain, headaches, backaches, shoulder pain, and overall body aches. If you’ve been noticing more aches and pains lately, stress may be to blame.
You’re making your heart work harder.
We all know the feeling. You’re taken by surprise or unsettled by something and suddenly it feels like your heart is beating out of your chest. That’s your “fight or flight response” kicking in. In the short term, an acute stress episode can induce heavy breathing, heart palpitations, and chest pain. Meanwhile, chronic or constant stress has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
A research from Harvard University found that when we’re stressed, the emotional center of the brain (the amygdala) jumpstarts white blood cell production. That leads to more arterial inflammation, which is linked to greater risk of both heart attack and stroke.
You’re breaking out.
When we’re stressed our skin becomes oily and sweaty. This can spark acne outbreaks. Stress is also linked to numerous skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis—likely due to its tendency to weaken the immune system. An intense bout of stress can even cause a skin rash, hives, or cold sore flare ups.
Additionally, sleep loss caused by stress can lead to bags under the eyes, and stress is known to reduce skin elasticity and promote the development of wrinkles. It isn’t hyperbole to say that chronic stress literally ages us more quickly.
You’re going gray or even losing your hair.
Constant feelings of stress will turn your hair gray. A research published recently documents how this occurs: Our stress-induced sympathetic nervous system activity inflicts permanent damage on the pigment-generating stem cells that color hair follicles.
As if gray hair at an early age wasn’t bad enough, stress can also lead to hair loss and balding. Specifically, stress can trigger a hair condition called telogen effluvium. In a nutshell, this condition causes more hair follicles than normal to enter their “resting phase.” When this occurs, tons of hair can fall out during daily activities like combing or showering.
Now that you know what to look for, if you’re experiencing any of these, consider seeking professional help.