Every day, our personal, professional and day-to-day lives and responsibilities could cause stress, even subconsciously. Over longer periods of time, this stress could accumulate, especially if it is amplified by more sudden and unexpected events, further increasing the stress levels we can experience. While mental health became more important in research over the last decade, the impact of stress on our physical wellbeing is still in its early stages of research with a limited amount of evidence and studies available.
The good news is the fact that some of the key impacts of stress on our physical well-being are well established. Familiarising yourself with these impacts could provide an insight into how stress manifests itself on our physical health and provide options on how to tackle the relevant conditions, as well as stress levels, in the long run.
To find out more about the specific impact of stress on our physical health, read the following Pharmica article.
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Prior to investigating the actual impact of stress on our physical lives, it is important to establish what stress is and how it works on both physiological and psychological levels.
For the duration of human evolution, stress evolved over time as a reactive tool to a specific stimulus like perceived dangers, wellbeing hazards and even life-threatening conditions. However, while nowadays the level of life-threatening dangers is considerably lower, our stress mechanism still responds to other events, prioritising self-preservation.
Experiencing stress sends signals to our brain that, in response, evokes body responses like increased heart rate, breathing patterns and blood pressure. Consequently, once the signal reaches the hypothalamus, adrenaline (or epinephrine) is released from the adrenal glands, rapidly increasing our heart rate as well as blood pressure as a part of our ‘fight or flight response that was used for self-preservation.
This adrenaline release forces our bodies into the alertness stage where our bodies keep developing relevant chemicals and elements that are used to maintain alertness until the perceived threat is gone. However, this body response has flaws and chemicals like cortisol can still keep overproducing, even after the perceived threat is not present. As a result, our bodies could continuously develop adrenaline from perceived stress levels, sometimes even becoming a chronic occurrence.
Consequently, over the long run, our bodies could maintain in that state for a longer period of time, causing physical health complications occurring from consistent stress levels that are explained below:
Experiencing Hair Loss:
Consistent high stress could have multiple impacts on our physical health. One of them is the increased rate of hair loss.
This occurs because of the release of cortisol hormone that is produced during our ‘flight or fight response to potential threats. This hormone causes the hair follicle growth cycle to be disrupted. Consequently, hair growth patterns and cycles could be disrupted, shortening the stages that are responsible for hair growth and prolonging hair growth resting stages.
This condition is called Telogen Effluvium (or TE) which directly leads to faster and more extensive hair loss. When the TE occurs, the hair growth cycle stops and switches to the resting phase for up to three months before starting the shedding phase. This happens due to the fact that when we are under stress, our bodies prioritise our essential body functions to save and prioritise energy. As a result, hair growth is considered to be less important leading to slow resource allocation, consequently causing TE that can affect half of our scalp hair for up to 6 months.
However, there is good news – the impact of this condition is reversible. In order to accelerate hair regrowth, learning how to manage your stress levels can be a sustainable long-term solution for hair loss. Furthermore, another relevant and effective way of dealing with stress-related hair loss is using clinically proven, safe and effective hair loss treatments like products that contain Minoxidil or Finasteride. These treatments are proven to be effective at halting the hair loss rates while encouraging hair growth when it is most needed.
Experiencing Weight Changes :
Furthermore, stress can also affect and cause changes in our body weight levels, especially weight gain. Weight gain could occur due to the activation of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine pathway caused by stress that is produced by glucocorticosteroids, increasing our desire to eat.
Consequently, individuals experiencing constant stress could become more prone to eating unhealthy foods in larger quantities to cope with the distress. Individuals experiencing stress over the long run could make the condition chronic, leading to poor levels of motivation and a potentially encouraging less healthy lifestyle with lower levels of exercise, healthy dieting and poor stress management techniques like bad adopting bad habits.
To tackle this physical health complication, it could help to identify the key stress triggers that could cause stress eating. In addition, in case if weight loss is a priority goal for adults with a BMI of 30 and above, effective and clinically proven weight loss treatments like Orlistat can be used in order to maximise weight loss results in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise routine.
Heart Health Complications:
Finally, arguably the most important impact of constant stress is the adverse impact on our heart health. Releasing adrenaline over longer periods of time could result in narrowing down the blood vessels and negatively affecting the blood pressure levels. As a result, more pressure is applied to our heart and potentially even amplified further by the fact that stress can encourage bad habits like smoking, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, and less exercise.
These negative coping habits could further amplify the damage to our hearts caused by stress from habits like smoking, drinking and unhealthy diets. As a result, maintaining this lifestyle over longer periods of time could result in narrowing the blood vessels, affecting the blood pressure levels and leading to cardiovascular issues and concerns. For example, developing cardiovascular diseases (or CADs) can manifest themselves into many different symptoms and related conditions, which could be life-threatening in the long run. The symptoms include but are not limited to shortness of breath, heart attacks, pains and, in combination with stress, could even cause ED in men, requiring erectile dysfunction treatments to manage the symptoms. However, if you are experiencing CAD symptoms, it is really important to ensure that you consult with a professional.
In conclusion, experiencing high-stress levels could have serious effects on our physical well-being, especially if this condition becomes chronic. It is important to ensure that you are aware of the potential risks involved as well as making sure that you are aware of your stress triggers that could amplify the impact.