Stress is a normal reaction to emergency situations, and there is no way to escape it. But in the present hectic lifestyle that calls for constant work pressure to meet deadlines, stress has turned into a chronic problem that is leading to various diseases. It is said that stress is the leading cause of infertility in men and women. The harmful effects of stress are aggravated when people resort to alcohol, drugs and tobacco to deal with the situation that do more harm than good. In this article, we have listed a few negative effects that stress exerts on both mind and body.
Negative Effects of Stress on Mind
It is believed that stress, up to a certain level is helpful in improving performance and makes you prepared for an emergency situation. But the problem arises when it goes beyond an emergency situation and turns into a chronic problem. In such a state, it starts to affect the brain, hampers cognitive functions and impairs memory.
Shrinking Brain Size
The effects of stress on brain has long been a subject of research and study and recent research shows prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to shrinking of the grey matter of the brain in regions related to physiological functions and emotions. It can lead to serious psychiatric problems in the future. People going through stressful situations such as a divorce, loss of job or death of a loved one have been shown to have lesser grey matter in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain. The lower number of nerve tissues in the prefrontal cortex region due to chronic stress leads to slackening of the brain’s ability to counteract potentially dangerous desires and addictions.
Promoting Depressive Symptoms
Development of depressive symptoms is one of the effects of stress and anxiety. Chronic stress for a prolonged period and the inability to cope up with it can spur negative emotions, affect productivity at work, induce bad mood and the affected individual might face difficulty in carrying out normal day to day routine. It might also affect personal relationships. The best way to treat stress naturally is with calming yoga and meditation that help in relaxing and soothing the mind in a holistic way.
Kills Brain Cells
Acute stress has adverse effects on brain cells. Stressful situations promote the release of adrenaline in the blood that sends a burst of energy to the brain for quick action, and after some time the adrenalin levels goes back to normal. But in more serious cases, the body releases glucocorticoids, a type of steroidal hormone that directly reach the hippocampus and an imbalance of sympathetic and parasympathetic hormones due to chronic stress destroys the cells of the hippocampus region of the brain.
Hinders Logical Thinking
One of the most adverse effects of stress on the mind is that it disrupts logical thinking. Extremely stressful situations often surpass the prefrontal cortex, the seat of judgment and hit the limbic system directly; that is responsible for emotion and reaction, thus, promoting rash decisions devoid of logic. Stress promotes reactions based on raw emotions and hinders the power of rational decision that is regulated by memory, judgment and wisdom. That is why excessive stressful situations often promote crimes of passion which the criminals later regret.
Affects Cognition and Memory
Extreme stressful situations for a prolonged time promote the release of catecholamines, namely epinephrine and dopamine that are neurotransmitters that suppress normal brain functions and affects short-term memory, concentration and rational thought. This directs the body into a fight or flight mode as a response to stress and anxiety. But such suppression also increases the risk of impaired cognitive functions and increases the risk of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Negative Effects of Stress on Health
The harmful effects of stress are not limited to the mind only; it has adverse effects on the physical health as well. Although it is difficult to say how bad stress for our health is all by itself, but it is true that stressful situations bring about other fatal diseases such as lung diseases, cancer, heart diseases, etc.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
One of the most severe effects of stress on health is that it acts as a major contributing factor in increasing the risk of heart diseases. Excessive stress and anxiety can aggravate symptoms of angina. Stress is definitely not a direct cause of heart diseases, but it promotes other factors that increase the danger of heart attack and stroke. Stress increases inflammation that damages the lining of the blood vessels and arteries. It increases blood pressure that also leads to artery damage.
Stressful situations for a prolonged time can make people overweight and obese because stress and anxiety promote overeating and craving for sugar and fat. In addition, it also boosts the release of the hormone cortisol that increases the amount of fat tissue in the body and enlarges the size of fat cells. Therefore, increased cortisol level is often linked to high abdominal fat. This situation can be prevented by stocking up healthy foods that elevates the mood and prevents you from munching on unhealthy snacks when you feel low.
Worsen Type 2 Diabetes
Yet another effect of stress on body and mind is that it raises the blood sugar level. Stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol raises the level of glucose in the blood in order to provide energy to the body to face a stressful situation. People without diabetes have mechanism that helps in controlling this blood sugar fluctuation, but for those suffering from Type 2 Diabetes; the situation becomes difficult and leads to other health problems such as kidney problems, vision problem, cardiovascular diseases and diabetic foot.
Cause Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia
Excessive stressful situations can lead to sleeping disorders and Insomnia. Stress leads to a condition known as hyper arousal – a state that disturbs the balance between sleep and wakefulness and people might face difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, thus affecting the quality of restful sleep. The best way to solve this problem is getting to the root of it and sorting out what’s causing it. Spending more time with family and friends can help in reducing restlessness, anxiety and stress so that it doesn’t interfere with sleep.
Affects the Immune System
We commonly notice that stress makes us more vulnerable to infections and diseases. The immune system encompasses a collection of organs, tissues and cells, and it works as the body’s defense mechanism against disease-causing bacteria and viruses. But the stress for a prolonged period can alter the functions of the immune system, suppress the immune functions and even turn it against the body itself leading to autoimmune diseases, cancer and AIDS. Stress promotes the production of the hormone cortisol – an emergency hormone that signals the immune system to slow down its functions till the emergency situation has passed. But, in case of chronic stress, the immune system continues to remain at a slowed down pace leaving the body susceptible to infections.
Top 10 Tips to Relieve Stress Naturally
It is important to know how stress disturbs our physical and mental health before knowing how to deal with it in a fitting manner. These easy to follow tips can help in dealing with stressful situations in a better way.
- Start practicing deep breathing exercises.
- Practice yoga and meditation to relax your senses.
- Listen to soothing music before going to sleep.
- Learn something new or engage in a hobby.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
- Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep on a daily basis.
- Spend more time with family and friends.
- Face the problems instead of evading from them.
- Get yourself moving and indulge in physical activities.
- Learn to turn down requests sometimes.
Now that you know the way stress can affect your health and the ways you can handle it aptly, try to apply it the next time you feel blue and do share your stress busting tips with us in the comments section.
Image Sources: thebrain.mcgill.ca, haaretz.com, mariefrance.com.ph, thediseasesymptoms.com, vkool.com.