Stress has a powerful impact on various aspects of your life—not only can it affect your mood, energy level, relationships, and work performance, stress can also cause and exacerbate a wide variety of health conditions.
Impact on health
Persistent reactions to stress can lead to serious health problems, including:
- Cardiovascular disease. One study that tracked over 68,000 healthy adults for eight years found that those who reported feeling constantly under strain and unable to cope, among other symptoms of chronic stress, were likelier to die of cardiovascular disease. The results of another study associated chronic stress with a 40-60% increased risk of coronary heart disease.
- Digestive disorders. The “brain-gut” connection has a two-way effect: digestive disorders can Learn more about irritable bowl syndromecause stress, and the negative effects of stress can cause and aggravate digestive disorders. Part of the fight-or-flight response’s job is to halt digestion so the body can focus its energy on dealing with the perceived threat. Prolonged stress, then, can disrupt the normal digestive function and cause bloating, pain, and discomfort.
- Accelerated aging. Elissa Epel, a professor at the University of California, has focused much of her research on the relationship between stress and telomerase (the enzyme associated with aging). Her studies show that people with chronic stress in their lives, such as mothers with chronically ill children, have markedly shortened telomeres. In fact, one landmark study found that these women aged on average ten years faster than women who did not perceive chronic stress in their lives.
- Decreased immune functioning. Since the 1980s, research has found that stress can negatively affect the immune system. The American Psychological Association suggests that one cause of stress that might be most intricately linked to immune function is loneliness—people who don’t have a support system to lean on in stressful times wind up getting sicker more often.
According to the HeartMath Institute, other effects of stress include weight gain and obesity, headaches, irritability, diabetes, and insomnia, among others.