It’s a no brainer that stress affects us – body, mind and soul. Most people know the side effects of stress simply by experiencing them. You don’t have to be a doctor to know that stress impacts your mood, your sleep or your diet.
Stress is the state of strain we experience in reaction to challenging circumstances, events and demands. However, stress is a lot more than the result of our behavior, and it’s important to talk about what goes on under the surface to understand all the ways stress can change us.
The body’s stress response is governed by three major chemicals: adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. Adrenaline and norepinephrine are responsible for the immediate bodily reaction to a sudden change in the environment, while cortisol is the chemical that hangs around more long-term. Additionally, testosterone and estrogen help us respond to stress. These chemicals and hormones affect every organ system in the body, either directly or indirectly, so it’s no wonder stress has such an all-encompassing impact on our lives.
Many of the side effects of stress on health differ from person to person in their intensity, duration or even existence. However, everyone can expect to experience some negative consequences when dealing with stress. Here are 6 overlooked side effects on the body and brain, that you may not have attributed to stress until now.
1. Somatic symptoms
You’re probably already familiar with some of the more common somatic complaints that come with extra stress: fatigue or trouble sleeping, low energy, etc. You may be unaware, however, that stress can also bring about physical symptoms more commonly associated with sickness, like nausea, diarrhea, constipation and headaches.
Extreme or prolonged stress can also literally make you sick (or more susceptible to sickness) because stress can weaken the immune system. Previously mentioned chemicals are responsible for directing resources and energy within the body to functions necessary for survival. In a life-or-death situation, your ability to run will probably be more important than your immune system. But once your body adjusts to the stress, your immune system is left weakened, increasing your likelihood of catching colds, flus and stomach bugs.
2. Decreased desire for physical intimacy
Again, this is a survival response. If your body is pulling its strength toward immediate survival tactics, your hormones are busy with other prioritized interests. As a result, one’s desire for physical intimacy simply takes a backseat. One study conducted on hundreds of medical residents found that high stress negatively impacted sexual desire and satisfaction. Ladies, stress may also impact your menstrual cycle, causing it to become irregular or paused for a time.
A decreased sexual drive is not always a side effect of stress, and not everyone experiencing stress will be affected this way. You are not alone if you are feeling decreased sexual desire due to stress. It’s important to raise these concerns with your healthcare provider, even if the conversation feels uncomfortable.
3. Increased use of substances
This may be another one of those no-brainers, but sometimes it happens more unconsciously than we realize. If you’re feeling weak due to stress, know that a battle for sobriety could be on the horizon. Substances can easily slip back into our lives when we are looking for a way to cope with life’s circumstances. Noticing signs of stress can put you on guard against abusing substances. Stay prepared for triggers before they happen, to ensure you’re not caught off-guard by substance use desires which might arise as a side effect of increased stress.
4. Restlessness and anxiety
One of the effects of stress on the brain is the interference it can impose on rational thinking. The body’s stress response is survival, and you’re not given the privilege of being able to think through long-term consequences as clearly as you would in a calm state. Stress affects our thought process negatively, ultimately resulting in a sense of anxiety and restlessness when that stress is prolonged.
There is a link between stress and anxiety, as well as stress and depression. Although anxiety and depression are not necessarily caused by stress and may have genetic or environmental roots, it cannot be denied that stress has the power to worsen the effects of anxiety and depression. Chronic stress should be addressed with a mental health professional, especially if feelings of anxiety and depression are increasing.
5. Changes in physical appearance
Stress takes a toll on every area of our lives. It affects not only what’s going on inside your head, but what’s occurring on the surface – namely, acne. Increased acne could be attributed to several factors, including changing hormone levels or more face-touching in stressful situations. Either way, it’s a pesky problem that often comes with raised stress levels.
Stress impacts our executive functioning negatively, affecting everything from our memory to our ability to focus on a task. We all get distracted at times and forget important information when our mind is elsewhere. Who hasn’t locked themselves out of their house or car at some point? If this becomes a daily struggle, however, it’s likely the stress has taken front and center.
Stress wiggles its way into our brain and occupies us with whatever perceived or real threat we’re facing. Soon, we find ourselves ruminating on these things and ignoring crucial tasks. If stress keeps you from maintaining a regular amount of focus, it’s time to get help.
If you are experiencing symptoms of stress that seem abnormal or are debilitating to daily functionality, talk to a medical or mental health professional. Some effects of stress may actually be indicative of an underlying physical or mental condition, which will only make your stress worsen if left unchecked. Don’t let stress hold you back from living a healthy, fulfilling life. Getting help to manage your stress is the best way to mitigate the side effects and get to the root of the problem. Get in touch with a professional at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling, by visiting us online or calling (800) 809-2925 today.