What You Need to Know About Stress

From the positive stress of planning a wedding to the negative stress of being overscheduled, we all experience stress from time to time. Though experiencing stress is a normal part of being human, ongoing stress can become chronic and ultimately lead to a broad range of symptoms and health consequences. In fact, stress affects health and research has shown that stress-related ailments account for 75% of all doctor visits in the United States, while chronic stress is linked to the top six leading causes of death.

Chronic stress can result from a myriad of challenging, threatening, or uncontrollable situations, including work pressure, health issues, relationship troubles, or sleep deprivation. When your body and mind don’t have the opportunity to fully rest and recuperate, you may start experiencing any number of health symptoms, including headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, food and substance misuse, compulsive behaviors, irritability, depression, and anxiety. In short, chronic stress can leave you feeling physically and psychologically stuck, amped up, burnt out, or otherwise out of balance. Let’s take a more in-depth look at how stress affects health:   

8 Ways Stress Affects Your Health

1. Nervous System

When you face chronic stress, your brain constantly triggers a host of physical reactions via the nervous system, which can eventually wear down the health of your body and the ability of your brain to function properly. In addition to amping up the reactivity of the amygdala (your brain’s emotional center), chronic stress can actually kill brain cells and shrink the part of your brain responsible for higher thinking, learning, memory, and reasoning (known as the prefrontal cortex).

2. Endocrine System

Your endocrine system, which produces hormones through a network of glands and organs, regulates key bodily functions, including metabolism, heart rate, sexual function, blood pressure, appetite, and sleep patterns. Chronic stress can trigger the endocrine system to secrete excessive stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline). This overexposure to stress hormones can increase your risk of anxiety, depression, impaired memory and cognition, heart disease, poor sleep, inflammation, chronic pain, and weight gain. These are part of the list of many ways stress affects health

3. Gastrointestinal (GI) System

With millions of neurons, the enteric nervous system of your gut is often referred to as your “second brain.” Chronic stress interrupts the health of your gut microbiota and brain-gut connection, which can cause indigestion, acid reflux, intestinal discomfort, bloating, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, inflammation, anxiety, and depression.

4. Musculoskeletal System

When you’re faced with a challenging or threatening situation, your musculoskeletal system creates tension, bracing to take action and protect itself. While chronic physical stress can cause overuse injuries or strain, even chronic psychological stress can lead to muscle aches, tension headaches, and migraines, in addition to triggering or exacerbating the experience of chronic pain.

5. Cardiopulmonary System

Composed of the interdependent cardiovascular and respiratory systems, your cardiopulmonary system supplies vital oxygen to every cell and organ of your body. As stress causes your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate to elevate, chronic stress can cause your heart, blood vessels, and lungs to work harder every day. Alongside causing chest pain and difficulty breathing, chronic stress has been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, hypertension, abnormal heart rhythms, stroke, asthma, upper respiratory infections, and decreased pulmonary (lung) function.

6. Reproductive System

By inhibiting your reproductive system, chronic stress can negatively impact your sexual health and function. In addition to squandering your sex drive, chronic stress can cause erectile dysfunction in men and amenorrhea (absence of menses) and infertility in women.

7. Immune System

Acute stress prepares your body to protect itself in the face of a threat or challenge by stimulating your immune system to prevent infections and heal wounds. However, chronic stress compromises this immunoprotective response, ultimately suppressing immune function and exacerbating inflammation. In addition to making you more vulnerable to viral infections, chronic stress can increase the amount of time it takes you to recover from injury or illness.

8. Oral System

Just like your body’s other vital systems, chronic stress can start to impact your oral health and function. Alongside triggering canker sores and increasing the risk of periodontal (gum) disease, chronic stress causes many people to grind or clench their teeth (known as bruxism), which can lead to tooth damage, enamel erosion, cavities, headaches, jaw and face pain, and worn-down teeth. Having dental problems is one of the negative ways in which stress affects health.

Prioritize Self-Care

While we can’t eliminate all of life’s challenges or stressors, you can empower your health by  proactively managing the negative side of stress through self-care, stress management, and routine preventative health visits. If you know or think you’re grinding or clenching your teeth, Dr. Lang can provide you with a custom nightguard to protect your teeth from further damage and provide symptom relief. And if you know you’re due for your bi-annual dental visit, you’re in for a self-care treat. Schedule your next appointment, then come kick back, relax, and enjoy the many benefits that self-care brings to your oral health, stress levels, and total well-being.