11 Health Risks When Stress Keeps You Sick
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your internal physical and emotional balance in some way. As part of this beautiful catastrophe of a world we live in there is no short supply of reasons we can find to be stressed. Between demands and deadlines, social events and personal expectations there is plenty that doesn’t go exactly our way, and we could get caught up too quick to even realize we are off balance until it’s too late and we topple over.
Beyond the feeling of being mentally suffocated and emotionally compromised, there are various health risks with getting trapped in a stressful life.
Stress Hits Women Different
Female hormones and brain chemistry do offer protection from stress, but women are still more affected physically and emotionally by stress than men are. The body has a natural anti-stress hormone Oxytocin which is produced during several natural experiences for women including:
These hormones are enhanced by estrogen and reduced by testosterone. This gives women the advantage over men, and nurturing activities boost oxytocin levels in women.
The flip-side to that coin is that women need more oxytocin than men to maintain their emotional health. One example given by Paul J Rosch, MD, FACP, and president of the American Institute of Stress (AIS) is that women are more negatively affected when they’re not touched, and also feel more stress than men in relationships.
Stress is a monster to your health regardless. The AIS has actually recounted that studies have indicated 75% to 90% of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, the effects of stress on women’s physical and emotional health are various in range and intensity. Here are at least 11 health risks that can result from stress keeping you sick.
- Skin Irritation
Because stress creates hormonal imbalances in the body it can affect your hair, nails, and skin. Emotions have a powerful effect on the body, and when stress influences the chemical balance of the body, it can cause the skin to become sensitive and reactive.
This means that stress can cause hives, itching and irritation of the skin, and if you already have sensitive skin or prior skin problems, it could make them worse.
- Stomach Illnesses
A lot of people are probably familiar with a sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are over-stressed. It can inspire you to binge on comfort foods, or stress can even upset your stomach to the point that you feel like you can’t eat.
Common stress-related stomach troubles include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Depending on how you respond, these can lead to weight loss or weight gain, which could be somehow linked to eating disorders.
- Eating Disorders
The relationship between stress and eating disorders may be able to explain why anorexia and bulimia are 10 times more common in women than in men. Eating disorders have been frequently linked to low levels of serotonin, and in some cases physicians have attempted to treat eating disorders with serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs.
- Emotional Health
Probably one of the most obvious is you emotional and mental health, and how there suffer when there’s stress in your life. Women are better than men at hiding some emotions like anger and aggressiveness because the parts of their brains responsible for these emotions are larger than men’s, but depression strikes women twice as often as men according to some researchers, and I can range from mood-swings to debilitating depression.
For women there are also some forms of depression unique to them, such as postpartum depression after pregnancy, or depression later in life after menopause, which can be magnified by stress.
- Sleep Issues
Insomnia, which is when you have trouble falling or staying asleep, is a very common trait for women affected by stress. Stress is already tiring on the body, so this health risk is especially counterproductive since a good night’s sleep can help ease stress.
- Difficulty Concentrating
Being under pressure can affect how well our brains work, which in turn can shake our focus and reduce our concentration. Stress makes it hard to focus and be effective in your responsibilities at home or work, and that can compound your problems if your stress comes from your job to begin with.
- Memory Lapse
Our lack of concentration may also be involved with how stress can infect our memory. Research suggests that the more stress we are under, the more frequent these mental lapses can become.
Even more troubling is that not only can long-term stress (over a period of weeks or months) disrupt communication between brain cells, but even several hours of acute stress can affect the brain’s ability to store information and create concrete memories.
- Lowered Immune Response
One of the more complicated physical reactions to stress is your body’s diminished capacity to fight off disease. Researchers have found that adolescents who were abused or experienced other, intensely stressful situations as children were less able to ward off certain infections even years later.
- Heart Disease
Stress can have a devastating impact on the body’s entire cardiovascular system, which can contribute to other serious health problems such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
According to Paul Rosch the stress of competing in today’s job market has amplified women’s risk for heart disease.
Some studies have suggested a link between stress and the development of breast and ovarian cancer. In one study, researchers found that the risk of breast cancer was increased by 62% in women who had experienced more than one highly stressful life event, like divorce or the death of a spouse.
- Substance Abuse
Substance abuse is very commonly associated with stress due to people who choose to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a response to the stress they experience.
Depressant drugs like alcohol produce a calming effect on the body which may cause the individual to feel as if they have escaped their difficulties, and then they increase their intake of these substances as a way to manage their stress levels.
In reality this causes more harm than good, because it creates a whole new condition with side-effects that actually contribute to the health risks of excessive stress.
Stress is something that we all experience. While men and women experience stress a little differently, there is always risk of health complications. One thing is for sure, self-medicating and ignoring the indications that stress is destroying your health is not going to help. But there is always help out there. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588