Whether it’s difficulties at work, dramas in our personal relationships or concerns about finances, we all experience stress from time to time.
While stress is a psychological response, it’s important to know it can also have alarming effects on the body. To mark National Stress Awareness Day (3rd November), the experts at Delamere have shared some of the surprising ways stress can have an impact on our physical being.
Stress can make you vulnerable to illness
Stress can prevent our immune system from functioning to the best of its ability, making us more vulnerable to illness.
This is because the response can decrease our body’s lymphocytes, which are white blood cells used to help fight off infection. The lower the count of lymphocytes, the more likely it is that we’ll catch a cold and be susceptible to other illnesses.
It can shrink your brain
Even amongst healthy people, long-term stress can shrink areas of the brain which are associated with emotions and metabolism. High levels of stress can also raise levels of the hormone cortisol, which can impact brain size, function and also performance when people are exposed to cognitive tests.
You might have irregular periods
Stress can also have an impact on your menstrual cycle by causing irregular or missed periods.
This is again due to the rise in cortisol levels, which can suppress the hormonal cycle responsible for a woman’s periods and ovulations. If your stress levels continue to rise, there is also a possibility that your menstrual cycle will temporarily stop, and this is tied to a condition known as secondary amenorrhoea.
You lose your sex drive
Increased cortisol levels can also lower your libido. During a chronic state of stress, your body will be focusing entirely on producing cortisol and not on the other hormones it should be creating, such as testosterone and estrogen. And so, stress can also lead to cases such as erectile dysfunction.
Stress can cause weight gain
Ever heard of the term stress eating? There is a scientific explanation behind this. High levels of cortisol can also stimulate your fat and carbohydrate metabolism, which in turn increases your appetite. You may then have an urge to seek comfort in unhealthy food habits – craving sweet, fatty or salty foods.
Stress makes it harder for you to conceive
Research published by the American Journal of Epidemiology discovered that women with higher levels of stress are 13% less likely to conceive than those who aren’t exposed to as much stress.
This is because stress has the capacity to shut down the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, which controls the reproductive system. This in turn can disrupt the connection between your brain and ovaries and cause delayed or absent ovulation.
Stress can disrupt your memory
Stress can even affect how our memories are formed. When stressed, we often find it more difficult to generate short-term memories and transmit these into long-term ones.
You are susceptible to heartburn
Heartburn is not just down to the foods we consume – stress also plays a big impact. When we are stressed, our digestion process slows down and food is kept in the stomach for longer. This response, therefore, gives stomach acids more time to build up and cause stress-related heartburn.
Martin Preston, founder of Delamere said: ‘The key to combating stress is to, first of all, begin from within. Steps such as eating healthily, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep are some of the key starting points to living a happier, healthier life.
‘If you find your stress levels are getting too high, it’s always best to talk about it, whether that’s to your loved ones or a professional. If you struggle to open up, perhaps write down your feelings on a notepad and use this as a coping mechanism whenever you feel things are getting too much.
‘When it comes to dealing with stress, the important thing to remember is that you are never on your own and there are plenty of tools you can use to help you back on your feet.’