Stress is something that we have all experienced at some time or another. In fact, for most of us, it has become a normal part of our everyday lives. Whether it’s from work, school, a never-ending to-do list, kids… I could go on and on. According to Dr. Daniel G. Amen, short bouts of stress are normal and can be beneficial as they provide bursts of adrenaline and cortisol. Chronic stress, however, can have major impacts on our health.
The Effects of Stress on the Body
Chronic stress constricts blood flow to the brain, which can prematurely age and impair brain function. The stress hormone, cortisol, is released as a way to fight stress. Studies published in the Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology have shown that long-term exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol can greatly affect memory. Likewise, chronic stress can result in decreased activity of the amygdala, which can result in an emotional imbalance.
Chronic stress can mimic the effects of aging, making you look much older than you actually are. Stress causes collagen and elastin in the skin to break down early, which causes wrinkles, and saggy skin. In a study of 647 women published in 2009, chronic stress was shown to have similar effects as smoking, obesity, or being ten years older than their true age.
Chronic stress weakens the body’s immune system, which makes you more likely to get sick. With a weakened immune system, illnesses such as the flu, and colds are more likely to occur. Furthermore, Dr. Amen reports that chronic stress has been related to heart disease, hypertension, and even cancer.
Stress can lead to an increase in appetite and cravings for carbs and fat, which can lead to weight gain. A study published in Physiology & Behavior found that stress causes people to eat unhealthy, high-fat food options such as candy versus their healthy, low-fat counterparts such as fruit. Likewise, another study published in the same journal showed that people on a diet were more likely to eat more when stressed out. Furthermore, stress usually goes hand-in-hand with a lack of sleep, which can make it much more difficult to get active.
Chronic stress can put the emotional center of the brain, the limbic system, into overdrive, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
How Should We Cope With Stress?
It’s apparent that chronic stress can have major impacts on our health but how are we supposed to cope with this stress? I was very interested in this topic so I read Dr. Amen’s book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, and wrote about ways to cope with stress and anxiety on my blog and went into detail about the 7 methods I use most frequently. For me, these include praying/meditating on a daily basis, getting enough sleep, exercising, diaphragmatic breathing, using lavender soap, bath salts, etc., avoiding harmful substances, and laughing very often.
I think the easiest and most beneficial way to fight stress, however, is to exercise! Physical activity is one of the biggest stress relievers and is the key to better health, better energy, and a better mood. Maybe you get active by picking up heavy stuff up and putting it back down, going for a long run, or playing on the playground with your kids. Whatever you choose, start fighting stress head-on by getting active!