Imagine you’re waiting at a train station, late for an important event or meeting, watching your train become progressively more delayed and then suddenly the screen displays ‘CANCELLED’. Instantly your hypothalamus, a tiny portion of your brain will begin to send out an order to the rest of your body: send in the stress hormones.
These stress hormones are the same ones that trigger your body into it’s fight or flight mode. Your muscles tighten and become ready for action, your breath quickens and your heart races. This response is designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. This immediate reaction can be beneficial to your health, when only in short-term situations. However, if your body is under this constant stress day after day, it could put your health at serious risk. In this article we will take a look at some of the effects regular stress can have on your body and appearance.
Central nervous and endocrine systems: heart rate and blood flow.
Your central nervous system (CNS) is in charge of letting your brain know that you’re stressed. The hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones speed up your heartbeat and send blood rushing to the areas that need it the most in an emergency e.g. your muscles, heart. Once the perceived fear is gone, the hypothalamus should tell all systems to go back to normal. However if the fear continues, the response from the heart beat and blood pressure will continue. In cases of extreme stress there is a syndrome that can be experienced known as ‘Broken-Heart Syndrome’ which feels exactly like a mini heart attack.
Stress will age you sometimes up to 10 years prematurely against when you would have naturally began to age if you weren’t so stressed out. Stressful periods stunt your sleep and traumatic events and chronic stress can shorten your telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps on the end of cell chromosomes, which will cause your cells to age faster.
All of this is not good for those who want to remain appearing youthful for years to come. You can expect crows feet around your eyes and fine lines on your forehead. Begin getting more sleep, exercising vigorously three times a week and use a product with retinol such as the HOMMAGE Silver Label Rescue Age Defense lotion, and you may be able to counteract the effects of a stressful life when it comes to ageing.
If you’ve ever felt very nauseous before a presentation or a performance of some sort, you’ll know that stress can have a very direct effect on your gut. In fact, stress is known to cause heartburn, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation because your brain and your stomach are closely connected and controlled by many of the same hormones. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is characterised by: pain, constipation and diarrhoea is also thought to be fuelled by stress.
Under stress your liver also produces extra blood sugar to give you a boost of energy. However, if you’re constantly in stressful situations your body may not be able to keep up with this extra glucose surge and this could lead to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You’ll also be way more likely to suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, thanks to an increase in stomach acid.
Respiratory and cardiovascular systems: breathing.
When you’re stressed you breathe faster in an effort to distribute more oxygen-rich blood to your body. Stressful situations also seems to exacerbate asthma and emphysema and can make it a lot harder to breathe. Researchers aren’t actually sure why, but stress may amplify the immune response to asthma triggers, such as: pollen, animal dander or dust.
Ever remember suddenly breaking out during exam period? Well it’s no secret that stress can cause you to break out more than you usually would. When you’re stressed the level of sex hormones, known as androgens, will increase. Which could be the main culprit as to why acne will suddenly flare up.
Researchers have also identified a number of conditions that aren’t necessarily caused by stress but that can be made a lot worse by stressful situations, including: psoriasis, rosacea, alopecia and eczema. This is because anxiety wreaks havoc on your immune system. Evidence also shows that when you’re stressed your skin can take longer to heal wounds than it usually would. Use the medically enhanced HOMMAGE Silver Label Facial Cleanser to wash your face morning and night in order to reduce the appearance of acne. Many doctors are also starting to incorporate stress management techniques such as biofeedback and meditation into their stress treatment programs.
When under stress your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury and your heart pumps faster, causing your blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to your muscles so that you have more strength to take action. However, if you’re under constant stress your muscles may not get the chance to relax and tight muscles can cause headaches, body aches and back pain.
When your heart pumps faster to give you more strength, this also raises your blood pressure. As a result, your chances of suffering from a stroke or a heart attack are increased. As time goes by this can begin a very unhealthy cycle as many people often stop exercising and turn to pain medication for relief. One basic tip is to ensure if working at a desk that you stand up, stretch and walk around every hour to combat back pain and body aches.
Sexuality and reproductive system: libido
Stress can also cause you to lose your sexual desires. While short-term stress may cause men to produce more testosterone, the effect soon wears off and after time a man’s testosterone levels will begin to drop rapidly. This can also affect sperm production and cause erectile dysfunction. Chronic-stress may also increase the risk of infection for male reproductive organs, such as the prostate and testes.
One study also uncovered that women were noticeably less attracted to men with high levels of stress hormone: cortisol, compared to men with lower stress-levels. Researchers are lead to believe that this may be due to lower levels of stress hormones, suggesting strength and health, which are desirable traits to be passed on to offspring. Concentrate on eating a healthy balance diet and cutting back on processed foods to help ease this symptom of stress.
Stressful situations also stimulate the immune system, which can be a plus for immediate situations. However, overtime stress hormones weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to viral illnesses.
During research in 2012, 276 healthy adults were quizzed over the levels of stress in their lives. They were then, rather unpleasantly, given nose drops containing rhinovirus, a frequent cause of the common cold. Those who were reported as being frequently stressed were twice as likely to get sick than those who were not.
While the research is mixed, a stressful lifestyle is also thought to play a role in triggering hair loss in the condition alopecia areata, which is also due to a spike in androgens. Stress can also cause your hair to shed more than usual, usually three to six months after a very stressful situation. A balanced diet can help the cells in your hair follicles to heal back to normal.
How to reduce the stress in your life
If reading this article has made you want to give up your day job and move to Bali, try to stay calm; there are many ways to avoid stress in your day to day life and still manage a fully functioning career.It’s also important to note that not everything on this list is guaranteed to affect you if you’re dealing with chronic stress, everyone is different. However, learning how to minimise stress is vital.
Ensuring you are eating a healthy diet, of mainly plant-based foods and are avoiding processed foods, studies show that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have lower stress levels. Exercising regularly is also very important, this can be little life changes such as cycling to work, using stairs rather than lifts and going for a walk during your lunch break. It doesn’t need to be ridiculously intense for it to be beneficial.
Finally, ensure you are getting enough sleep, eight hours is recommended but seven hours will do for those who usually push to get six hours. Don’t overlook any of these three top strategies to relieve stress as all of them are equally important. Listen to your body. No salary is worth risking your own health for, so focus on your work/life balance if stress is affecting your mind and body.