Society often associates stress as mentally damaging as opposed to physically damaging. Now, according to multiple studies, feeling stress in limited amounts can be highly beneficial to bodily functioning as it pushes our brains and other organs into a positive trajectory towards development. However, chronic stress leads to severe bodily harm as it increases a person’s risk to strokes, heart attacks, ulcers, and dwarfism, aside from mental illnesses alone. Let’s dive into the specific harmful effects that stress has on your body in the short and long run.
Rising Cortisol Levels Destroys Our Long-Term Health
First, we should understand the basic effect of stress on our bodies: it produces cortisol, a steroid hormone secreted from the adrenal gland in the excretory system. They function to increase our blood sugar, to suppress our immune system, and to metabolize fat, protein, and carbohydrates. High levels of stress can increase the pace of these functions and this is severely detrimental to our biological and psychological health in the long-run.
Inflammation of Immune System Undermined
Second, we know that our immune system keeps our body biologically healthy when we suffer physical injury, illness, or wound. A key component of this system is the inflammation or inflammatory response that eliminates foreign pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Stress influences the regulation of inflammation, which makes it relevant to physical and mental illnesses. Based on studies, by influencing inflammation, stress likely increases risks of depression and other illnesses. It increases the up-regulating inflammatory activity and alters our social, cognitive, and affective processes that promote this mental disorder.
Stress Promotes Diseases
Disease promotion is another major impact of stress on your body, as seen in a study by Sheldon Cohen. After comparing two groups of healthy participants, one group of 276 adults were exposed to stressful events and the cold virus. The other group of 79 adults was only exposed to the virus. Cohen found from the first group that prolonged stressful events are associated with the inability of immune cells to effectively respond to hormonal signals that regulate inflammation. With that inability, they were more likely to develop colds when exposed to the virus. The immune system’s regulation abilities of inflammation can predict how stress would promote diseases. When exposed to stressful events, the immune system cannot respond to hormonal control and later produce levels of inflammation that promote disease.
This is an important study as it explains the role that inflammation plays in many other diseases such as cardiovascular illnesses, asthma, and autoimmune disorders.With regards to our brains, chronic stress leads to the atrophy of brain mass and reduction in its weight. These structural changes bring about major differences in our brain’s responses to stress, cognition, and memory. Various studies show that stress causes these changes to the hippocampus section of our brain. If the intensity of stress pushes beyond the dangerous threshold, which varies between individuals, it causes cognitive disorders in judgement and memory due to the changes to the hippocampus.
Higher Risks of Diabetes and other Major Illnesses
In stressful situations, as we know, our livers produce extra blood sugar for energy boost so chronic stress may end up with large glucose surges that your body is incapable of managing. This increases the risks of developing type 2 diabetes. Adding to this, your digestive will get upset from the increasing hormones, rapid breathing, and rapid breathing, which makes it highly likely for you to develop heartburn or acid reflux due to increased stomach acids. It, in turn, make someone suffering from chronic stress regularly to develop ulcers or result in existing ulcers to act up. The other major affects is how stress affects the way food moves through your body, increasing situations of diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and stomach aches.
Our Muscles and Bones Face Huge Risks of Damage
Our muscular and skeletal systems also see major risks of damage from chronic stress. Our muscles tense up to protect from injuries in stressful situations. Once we relax, muscles release again, however, by being in constant stress, muscles don’t get the chance to relax and tight muscles cause severe headaches and body aches, particularly the back and shoulders. This could cause unhealthy cycles of resorting to pain medication for relief after ending your exercise regime temporarily or permanently. Stress causes our bones to its density levels due to rising cortisol levels from its acidifying effects, which increases risks to major fractures.