Far too many Americans walk around burdened by an overwhelming stress load. Much of the problem lies in society — please don’t make yourself feel worse by blaming yourself for feeling anxious.
You do need some pressure — without a little stress, you would never get out of bed. However, the imbalance most Americans face can take a severe toll on your well-being. Here’s why stress is so insidious and how it can destroy your health.
1. It Steals Your Smile
You probably don’t feel much like smiling when you feel stressed. Even though doing so might improve your mood, it can be challenging to turn up those lip corners.
You might end up embarrassed of your smile if your stress becomes chronic. Ongoing pressure can trigger bruxism or tooth grinding that can lead to breakage and severe pain. Even if you don’t lose teeth, the resulting jaw and head pain can leave you scowling. Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to prevent damage since you often grind unconsciously.
When you appear unapproachable, people stay away — which could make you lonely. This emotion can damage your health further. A review of multiple studies shows loneliness and social isolation increase your risk of mortality from 26% to 32%. People are social animals, and they need to connect with others to feel healthy.
2. It Devastates Your Heart Health
Excess stress can do numbers on your heart in several ways. One factor begins in your brain. Think of your mind as your body’s control panel, telling every other organ in your body what to do. Recent research from Australia indicates that chronic stress can stick your blood pressure button in the up position, significantly increasing your heart attack and stroke risk.
Another way stress impacts cardiovascular disease risk is by making you feel too tired to exercise, even when a vigorous workout might be just what the doctor ordered. Working out tones your heart muscle, helping it push more blood with each contraction, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. It also releases a flood of feel-good endorphins to bust the blues that often accompany too much pressure.
You need the mitigating effects of exercise to deal with modern pressures that you can no longer flee from the way humans once did hungry bears. Stress tells your body to produce a biochemical cocktail of various neurotransmitters and hormones that creates nervous energy. When you don’t release these and bring them back into balance, you feel “off” — a result you can often measure on your blood pressure reading.
3. It Can Pack on Unwanted Pounds
One of those pesky hormones your body releases in droves, when you experience chronic stress, is cortisol. This substance picks up when the initial adrenaline surge wears off, preparing your body for an ongoing battle.
One way it does so is by telling you to shore up your defenses by increasing food cravings. Unfortunately, your body won’t develop a hankering for kale. Instead, you’ll feel driven to consume high-fat, high-sugar meals that are calorie-dense.
Your body thinks it needs the fuel because it can’t differentiate between stress from a lion you must flee and an overbearing boss, whom you cannot. However, when you don’t burn those excess calories off during fight or flight, they stick to you.
Unfortunately, stress-related pounds also accumulate in the abdominal area, although scientists remain unsure why. Doctors consider excess fat in this region particularly troublesome because it can build up around your vital organs.
4. It Upsets Your Digestion
You might have noticed that you can’t eat at all in the pique of panic, only to feel ravenous once the initial threat dissipates. This sensation is normal, but ongoing, chronic stress can wreak havoc on your digestion.
People with autoimmune disorders like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease often experience worsening flares when their stress levels get high. Those with irritable bowel syndrome likewise report that their symptoms get worse when they are under pressure.
Scientists have discovered an intricate connection between your gut and your brain. Feelings of stress and anxiety influence the nerves of your digestive tract to contract more frequently. They may also cause changes in your microbiome, the system of beneficial bacteria in your gut that aids digestion.
5. It Leads to Poor Decision-Making
Poor decisions can impact your health. Chronic stress, however, clouds your judgment, making it challenging to remain objective. The results can be disastrous.
Unfortunately, you have to react to some situations under pressure. For example, if your landlord decides to sell your flat, you have little choice but to move. Your best weapon is mindfulness.
Explore your adverse beliefs and behaviors when under stress with a nonjudgmental mind. Do you tend to reach for the bottle, providing temporary escape but putting yourself at risk for a substance use disorder? If so, consider healthier choices you can make to manage overwhelming emotions, like going for a vigorous run or calling an understanding friend.
Try to calm your physiological reactions by eating healthy foods and nurturing yourself as much as possible. Avoid making snap judgments. Write a list of pros and cons before making any life-altering decisions, and let 24 hours pass whenever possible before acting on your final choice.
Stress Is Insidious — It Can Destroy Your Health
Stress is insidious and can destroy your health in multiple ways. Now that you understand the science, take proactive steps to tame your tension today.
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