21 Ways Stress Can Ruin Your Health


Many people know the feelings that stress can bring to their bodies on an emotional level. What you may not realize, though, is that stress can affect both your long term and short term health. This may lead to problems that can shorten your lifespan and make it more difficult to enjoy the life you want to live.

While everyone has stress in their lives, knowing the harmful effects of it on your body can give you the impetus you need to make changes. A healthy diet and exercising can help you weather the stress in your life and lower the risk of numerous stress-related illnesses.

Here are 21 long-term effects of stress on your health:

1. Obesity

Weight gain and obesity are often by-products of a stressful life and people who already have high body max indexes are even more susceptible to stress-related weight gain. Whether stress makes you overeat or even binge eat in order to deal with it, or you simply do not find enough time to exercise, the storage of fat that you gain tends to migrate to your belly.

Researchers have found that high levels of stress increase the levels of cortisol in your body, the stress hormone that has been linked to cravings for sugar and fat. Cortisol seems to make the body deposit more fat around your middle when you are stressed compared with your hips or legs. It is the fat located in this area that tends to cause the most health problems. Fortunately, exercise can help you control both stress and belly fat.


2. Anxiety And Depression

Since stress can make you feel anxious, as well as depressed about the issues surrounding the stressful events in your life, it should not surprise you that people who are highly stressed are those who exhibit greater anxiety and more frequent depression.

Anxiety and depression can make it difficult to pay attention to what you eat and what foods you cook. This can make it more tempting to eat foods that are processed since they are ready-to-eat. Unfortunately, these foods tend to be higher in saturated fats, making them bad for the health of your heart as well as bad for your waistline.

Finally, risky behaviors correlated to stress such as overeating, smoking, drinking, and neglecting regular exercise can lead to various emotional problems and illnesses. The connection between stress and depression is a circular one: stress leads to unhealthy lifestyles which, in return, increase the risk of depression.


3. Diabetes

If you have diabetes, stress can aggravate it. Namely, research has confirmed that stress raises blood sugar, and people suffering from type 2 diabetes have higher blood sugar levels when they are under a lot of stress.

Not only are stressed people more likely to eat poorly, which can increase weight and negatively affect glucose levels, but they also are more likely to engage in other unhealthy behaviors such as drinking heavily. This can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels, making it difficult to control them.

One research which observed obese black women without diabetes came to the conclusion that those who produced more stress-related epinephrine when asked to think about particularly stressful situations had higher fasting glucose and experienced bigger spikes in blood sugar compared to those women with lower epinephrine. Consequently, chronic stress worsens diabetes in people suffering from the condition and raises the risk of getting diabetes in people not afflicted by the illness.

Handsome Young Man Screaming

4. Headaches

Your central nervous system is responsible for the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response which means that the CNS gives commands to the rest of your body and tells it what to do. Once the nervous system receives information that the perceived threat is gone, the system should tell all the other systems to continue working normally.

However, when you are under constant stress, your CNS fails to return to normal, as well as other systems. Chronic stress takes its toll on your CNS which can easily lead to headaches.

Stress-induced headaches happen often, especially in females. The most common form of headaches that occur under stress are tension headaches with the majority of adults occasionally suffering from them – women are twice as likely to get them.

Although tension headaches (caused by tense muscles in the neck and scalp) are not the most serious of medical conditions, they will interfere with your daily routine. You will most likely experience pain or pressure around the forehead or back of the head.


5. Chest Pain

Despite the fact that chest pain can often be associated with much more serious medical conditions, it is also one of the most common symptoms of stress. You should, however, be aware that many symptoms of stress can also be signs of other health problems. Whatever the case, you should talk to your doctor if you frequently experience chest pain.

The connection between stress and chest pain has doctors baffled, but science has indeed found out that the two are linked. According to Science Daily, around 20,000 people went to the hospital in 2006 because of chest pain that was in no way connected to cardiovascular disease or other conditions.

Additionally, one study confirmed that men dealing with life or work stress are more likely to experience chest pain than women, while women faced with anxiety and depression are more likely to suffer from it than men.

Young teenager looking down at his chest with acne

6. Skin Problems

Most people suffering from skin problems such as acne already suspect that they are somehow connected to stress, and science shows they are right. Stress actually gives you zits and they will break out more often when you are stressed.

Research found out that acne outbreaks in students occur more often during exam time than less stressful school activity. It seems that an increase in male hormones called androgens could be responsible for acne, especially in women.

Stress has also been connected to itchy skin rashes that have puzzled scientists for a long time. And that’s not all. Stress can also cause psoriasis to appear for the first time or make it more severe in people already dealing with the condition. The bottom line is that stress probably won’t trigger new skin conditions, but it can easily worsen your current condition.

man sitting on the bed with disappointed woman

7. Lower Sex Drive And Sex Appeal

Since stress is exhausting for both the body and the mind, it’s not unusual to lose interest in sex when you’re stressed out. Many couples who are dealing with a lot of stressful situations have less sex and even enjoy it less than people who are more relaxed. Of course, sexual problems can have various medical causes, but stress is one of the most common culprits for lowering the libido.

At first, men may produce more testosterone during stress, which may increase sexual desire. Unfortunately, this stage doesn’t last long. In the long run, a stressed body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol which creates a hormone imbalance and lowers the sex drive.

When it comes to sex appeal, one research concluded that women were less attracted to men with high levels of cortisol than to men with lower levels. One possible explanation is that low levels of cortisol are linked to health and strength – appealing qualities to be passed on to children.

Woman having abdominal pain

8. Period Problems

Naturally, male reproductive systems are not the only ones affected by stress. Women who are dealing with stress may experience irregular or missed periods, as well as heavier and more painful menstruation.

When stressed, the brain is under the assumption that we are faced with a ‘fight or flight’ situation, and therefore reproductive functions like periods are not needed. Cortisol actually orders the brain to stop producing and releasing estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that stimulate the menstrual cycle.

When it comes to heavier and more painful periods, around 50% of women experience more discomfort during menstruation. Women who report high levels of stress are twice more likely to suffer from more painful periods compared to women who are not under stress. A few studies have even linked chronic stress and low fertility in women.

Finally, women under chronic stress can experience more extreme physical symptoms of menopause than those who are not under stress.

A frustrated businessman.

9. Lower Sperm Count

Not only do stressed men have a lower libido, they also have lower sperm counts and a reduced concentration of sperm in the semen. Basically, after the initial testosterone boost, testosterone levels start to drop. This interferes with sperm production while at the same time causing erectile dysfunction or impotence. And that’s not all. The urethra, prostate and testes are more prone to infection in men who suffer from chronic stress.

A study released in 2013 in the journal Fertility and Sterility confirmed that men who have higher stress levels also have lower sperm counts. Namely, the scientist examined the sperm of around 180 men, half of whom were trying in vitro fertilization for the first time.

The ones who had the lowest stress levels had higher sperms counts and vice versa. The sperm of those men who were under stress was also more likely to be deformed, less mobile, or even to have breaks in their DNA.

Pregnant woman getting medicines

10. Pregnancy Problems

In addition to affecting the ability to get pregnant in the first place, stress can increase the chances of miscarriage and premature labor.

Studies have shown that there is a link between miscarriage and high levels of stress, particularly early in the pregnancy or just before conception. A research published in 2006 found out that high levels of cortisol may affect levels of progesterone, the hormone responsible for uterine growth. Basically, there is also a connection between low birth weight and stress. There’s even some research suggesting that extremely high levels of stress can affect the development of the fetal brain.

As far as preterm birth goes, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1999 showed that women who delivered prematurely reported high stress levels.

Having all of this in mind, not only should you try to avoid chronic stress during pregnancy, but you should also prevent stress overload before getting pregnant.

The doctor is amazed by the patient's condition

11. Hypertension

More than 30% of American adults suffer from hypertension, better known as high blood pressure, and stress can play a significant role in that. When faced with long-term stress, the body produces hormones that cause your heart to pump faster and your blood vessels to narrow. Consequently, your blood pressure raises temporarily.

Although there is no proof that chronic stress leads to hypertension, it’s obvious that a connection exists. Unhealthy behaviors associated with stress like overeating, excessive alcohol drinking and sleep deprivation may actually be the factors that contribute to long-term high blood pressure, according to Mayo Clinic.

On the other hand, short-term spikes in blood pressure that are related to stress and frequently occur may put you at a bigger risk of developing long-term hypertension.

Chest Pain

12. Heart Disease

When you are dealing with a stressful situation, your heart pumps faster and your blood pressure raises. Long-term stress forces your heart to work harder for longer period of time, which significantly raises your risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. People suffering from frequent or chronic stress are at a much higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

A recent study of 200,000 employees in Europe discovered that people who have stressful jobs without the freedom to make their own decisions at work are almost 25% more likely to have a heart attack compared to people with less stressful jobs.

Another study published in 2012 found that stressful jobs increase the risk of heart attack in women by a staggering 70%. And that’s just the beginning. According to WebMD, chronic stress has been connected to coronary artery disease, heart failure, abnormal heartbeat, blood clots and hardening of the arteries.

Patient on respirator

13. Stroke

An observational study conducted by the researchers from the Hospital Clinico Universitario San Carlos in Madrid found that chronically stressed people may have a higher stroke risk compared to more relaxed people. Specifically, people with stressful habits and type A behavior had an increased risk of stroke.

Another study of 20,000 people who had never had a stroke or heart disease came to the same conclusion – stress is indeed associated with a high risk of stroke. And there’s more proof. Yet another study confirmed that healthy adults who had experienced a particularly stressful event within the past year were four times more likely to have a stroke than less-stressed people.

Although scientist cannot say for sure why long-term stress is connected to high stroke risks, one possible theory is that the stress-related high blood pressure and/or atherosclerosis greatly contributes to the increased risk.


14. Respiratory Problems

Stress hormones affect not just your cardiovascular, but also your respiratory system. Having in mind the impact stress has on the respiratory system, it’s not surprising that stressed people should focus on their breathing. During the stress response, you breathe faster and harder in order to distribute oxygen throughout your body. Lastly, stress can cause extremely rapid breathing (hyperventilation) which can lead to a panic attack.

If you have lung conditions such as asthma or emphysema, stress makes it harder for you to breathe. In fact, stress seems to worsen asthma in people suffering from the lung condition. Researchers don’t know why this happens, but stress increases the immune response to various asthma triggers, including pollen, dust and animal dander.

One study found that children who experienced severe stress were twice as likely to have an asthma attack compared to those not under stress.

Funny Squinting man with Tousled brown hair in studio

15. Insomnia

Sleep deprivation and insomnia are common symptoms of stress and over 70% of adults with chronic stress have trouble sleeping. Problems that are related to work, school, health and relationships may keep your mind active during the night, while stressful live events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or the loss of a job may lead to insomnia.

Long-term exposure to stress disrupts your sleeping habits and causes sleep disorders. Basically, people who are under stress don’t feel sleepy because their mind is preoccupied with other things and just won’t shut off.

The majority of people with sleep problems that are related to stress experience them at least once a week, while many people deal with them several times during the week. And this is a tormenting cycle: you can’t go to sleep because you are stressed, and then you feel even more stressed the next day because you are tired and less productive.


16. Colds

Like other systems in our body, the immune system is also seriously affected by stress. Excessively stressed people have a hard time fighting off germs successfully and they are more prone to common cold viruses.

In the short run, stress stimulates the immune system due to the prolonged release of catecholamines, which regulate your immune system. Over time, catecholamines start interfering with the functioning of the immune system and you become more susceptible to viral illnesses such as influenza and the cold. Further, the thymus gland shrinks because of stress, which makes matters only worse since the thymus gland makes white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infections.

All of this also increases the time it takes to recover from an illness. Finally, researchers believe that stress triggers inflammation in the body, which could offer an explanation as to why stress is also connected with more serious diseases.

Young man face with broken tooth

17. Teeth Damage

Stress affects our physical health even when we are not aware of it and it doesn’t necessarily disappear when we are asleep. Chronic stress can even manifest itself during the night in the form of teeth grinding. Even though many people aren’t aware that they grind their teeth until a dentist tells them, chronic grinding can eventually leave you with fractured, loosened or lost teeth. WebMD reports that grinding can even wear teeth down to stumps.

Sharif Khan, a cosmetic and implant dental specialist told the Guardian that people who are worst affected by grinding are ambitious people, perfectionists and businesspeople (people with type A personality).

Basically, people with stressful jobs are more likely to end up with seriously damaged teeth compared to the ones who work in a stress-free environment. If teeth damage wasn’t enough, teeth grinding can also result in severe headaches and jaw pain. Around 8% of people experience frequent facial pain caused by teeth grinding or jaw clenching.


18. Upset Stomach

Since the digestive system is sensitive and full of nerves, it can be greatly affected by high-stress situations. Stomachache, stomach cramping, constipation and diarrhea can all be caused by or worsened by stress.

Francisco Marrero, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic explained that there is a connection between the brain and the stomach and concluded that there is a reason for calling the gut – the little brain.

Apart from the brain, the stomach has the largest area of nerves in the body. Consequently, researchers strongly believe that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is triggered in part by stress. Around 20% of American adults suffer from the condition, which is characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, and approximately 60% of them are under stress and have at least one psychiatric disorder, mostly generalized anxiety disorder, according to WebMD.

Woman with really bad neck pain

19. Muscle Pains

When your body is under stress, your muscles tense up in order to protect themselves from potential injury. Once you relax, your muscles also relax. However, if you’re constantly under stress, your muscles can never relax which may cause various musculoskeletal conditions such as headaches, migraines, neck, lower back and shoulder pain and other body aches.

In addition to triggering severe back pain, stress can worsen already existing chronic pain because the ‘fight or flight’ response in this situation includes tensing muscles. One recent European study confirmed that people who suffer from anxiety or tend to have a negative outlook on life are more likely to develop back pain.

Another study from 2012 discovered that stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. This could, in turn, be connected with various stress-related pains.


20. Premature Ageing

Many studies have shown that extremely stressful events and long-term stress can speed up the ageing process by shortening telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of cell chromosomes. Yes, stress can actually cause your cells to age faster.

Studies from the University of California, San Francisco have already associated shortened telomeres with chronic diseases and premature death. Another study found that work-related stress also shortens telomeres and can lead to Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Not only does stress accelerate the ageing process, but the mere anticipation of stress can eventually result in age-related diseases. Essentially, great anticipated stress levels on a daily basis may speed up cellular aging in persons who are chronically stressed.

Scientists from the University of Berkley also found that constant stress could be driving the female brain toward faster age-related decline and it has long been thought that chronic stress greatly contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Young man in shock

21. Brain Shrinking

According to a recent study from Yale University, researchers suggest that highly stressful events can actually reduce gray matter in regions of the brain linked with emotional regulation and physiological functions. Brain scans confirmed that healthy people with chronic stress had less grey matter in the brain compared to those subjects who were not frequently faced with stressful situations.

In simple terms, stress shrinks the brain. This means that stress can make the brain more susceptible to depression and addiction, while at the same making way for future psychiatric problems.

Although researchers aren’t fully aware of all the consequences of this finding, they believe that the idea is that people lose their ability to control how stress affects them and become more reactive due to the loss of grey matter, according to neuroscientist Tracy Bale, PhD, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

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