How stress affects your body—and what to do about it

How stress affects your body—and what to do about it


Immune system dysfunctionImmune system dysfunction
Chronic stress increases the levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline in the body, which weakens the immune system and heightens the risk of contracting a virus and developing an infectious disease. Stress can also trigger or worsen the symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.


Stomach problemsStomach problems
There’s a reason we sometimes complain of “having a knot in our stomach”! Over time, stress can disrupt how the digestive system functions, leading to disorders such as ulcers, nausea, bloating, acid reflux, and heartburn. Stressful periods increase fluid secretion, prompting episodes of diarrhea and the urge to urinate.


Sleep disordersSleep disorders
Difficulty falling asleep, light sleep, and insomnia can indicate hyperarousal, a condition activated by stress from a perceived threat. Occasional sleep disorders are not necessarily a problem, but they can become chronic if left untreated. In some cases, a lack of sleep can also become a fixation, which in turn generates anxiety, further fuelling the problem.


Hair lossHair loss
People lose an average of 50 to 100 hairs per day, but this can vary depending on the person and the season. Losing more than 100 hairs per day, however, could be a case of telogen effluvium, stress-induced hair loss. Stress can trigger metabolic changes that disrupt the hair growth cycle, sometimes causing significant hair loss.


Decreased libido and other dysfunctionsWhat’s their favorite sexual position?
Stress inhibits the desire hormones, which can cause a loss of libido. For women, it can also cause certain gynecological conditions, such as amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), while men can suffer from infertility and erectile problems.


Dermatological problemsDermatological problems
The brain has a stronger connection to the skin than we think. Excess hormones, caused by chronic or acute stress, can increase sebum production and thus acne. Stress can also exacerbate pre-existing diseases, such as dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema. Patients often end up scratching, which worsens their symptoms, increases the appearance of lesions, and ultimately affects their self-esteem.


Weight gainWeight gain
Stress-induced fatigue and feeling pressed for time can make it difficult to watch your diet. What’s more, many people find comfort in food, and not always in a balanced way. Frequent take-out, rushed meals, and high-calorie cravings make weight gain almost inevitable. And the fact that excess cortisol continuously sends hunger signals to the brain certainly doesn’t help.


If you have frequent headaches, it may be due to stress. Migraines are genetic in origin, but stress can set them off. As for tension headaches, these often follow stressful periods or events.


Anxiety and depressionAnxiety and depression
Stress can play nasty tricks on your mood, triggering worry, irritability, restlessness, and even create problems with anxiety and depression. Then, there are the physical consequences of stress (weight gain, hair loss, skin problems, etc.) that can eventually decrease self-esteem, set off a vicious cycle, and threaten your mental health.


Identify the cause of stressIdentify the cause of stress
Stress can affect your body in many ways. Fortunately, there are several techniques for counteracting its effects and improving your quality of life. To manage stress, start by finding the source. Work, money, family, or relationship tensions may be causing unconscious concern. Identifying such sources will help you set limits and even find a solution.


Monitor your sleepFatigue
Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is crucial to your body’s proper functioning and stress management. If you suffer from insomnia or light sleep, there are ways to increase your sleep quality. Whether you choose essential oils, herbal teas, or limited screen time before bed, establishing a personalized routine will help you get some shut-eye.


Practise mindfulnessPractise mindfulness
Stress and anxiety can bring to mind catastrophic scenarios, each more improbable than the last. To avoid excessive preoccupation with the worst, try practising mindfulness. This Buddhist-inspired approach teaches us to banish persistent negative thoughts by anchoring ourselves in the present moment. This is a great way to change our perspective, distance ourselves from bothersome issues, and remember that some things are just out of our control.


During peak moments of stress, it’s important to stop for a few minutes, recognize the symptoms, and treat them. Deep breathing exercises are one of the most effective tools for quickly countering the effects of stress and regulating tension in the body. Taking a step back and giving yourself a moment to refocus will improve your ability to manage stressful situations.


Relax your musclesRelax your muscles
Muscle tension, often in the neck and back, is one of the clearest signs of stress. The next time this happens, take a few moments to do some relaxation exercises to release any tension in your body.


Play sports
Play sports
It’s no secret that playing sports doesn’t just keep you looking good. It also improves your health, benefiting your heart and mind. Physical activity releases endorphins and dopamine, hormones related to well-being, thus counteracting many of the negative effects of stress, such as anxiety and a lack of sleep.


Get creative
Get creative
2016 study showed that expressing artistic creativity helps reduce stress. Whether it’s embroidering, painting, playing an instrument, or even doing manual work, be sure to cultivate activities that you’re passionate about. It’s good for your health!


Listen to musicListen to music
You’ve probably heard this before and are likely to hear it again. Music can be therapeutic, and science confirms it. A 2006 article, published by Stanford University, explains that music’s combination of various frequencies sets off a complex series of reactions in the brain. The study suggests that certain songs may improve concentration and even promote relaxation.


Talk to your loved onesTalk to your loved ones
Sometimes the simple act of sharing distressful thoughts with someone close to you can take the weight off your shoulders. They may have already experienced a similar situation and have good advice for you. Then again, you may simply need a sympathetic, attentive ear to help you understand your feelings and see things more clearly. Whatever the case, your loved ones have your well-being at heart and should not be undervalued.


Talk to a professionalTalk to a professional
Your loved ones surely care about you, but may not always be equipped to provide the help you need. In this case, you may want to speak to a professional near you or online. Psychotherapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are specially trained to help you manage stress using the most appropriate treatment for your situation.


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