7 Surprising Ways that Stress Affects Your Health (And What You Can Do About it)

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While there’s a great deal of debate about why women are more stressed than men, there’s no question that stress is taking a toll on women’s health. Here are seven surprising ways that stress may be impacting your wellbeing:

1. Weight Gain

Maybe you’re familiar with the way stress makes you look in the fridge every five minutes and leads you to the drive-thru line a little too often. But do you understand why stress seems to go straight to your waistline? Chronic stress increases the levels of a hormone called cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” Elevated cortisol increases your appetite, reduces your metabolism, and causes more of those calories to be stored as fat.

2. Skin Blemishes

Stress can make your skin go haywire, leading to acne breakouts, rashes, and even hives. If you experience too much stress for too long, you may even notice premature signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. This, too, is thanks to cortisol and its collagen-reducing and inflammation-boosting effects.

3. Reduced Libido

When your brain is swirling with worry, it’s natural to not be in the mood. However, that’s not the only way stress messes with your libido. Chronic stress can reduce your body’s production of estrogen, which tanks your sex drive and leaves you prone to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

4. Upset Stomach

It won’t come as a surprise that stress can wipe out your appetite or make you crave carby, sugary comfort foods. What you may not know is that, regardless of your diet, stress can lead to stomach upset in the form of indigestion, heartburn, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, and bloating.

5. Hair Loss

On a normal day, your head might lose 50 to 100 strands of hair. While that might sound like a lot, it’s a tiny portion of the approximately 100,000 hairs on a human head. But when you’re stressed, hair loss goes into overdrive. Stress can increase the rate of hair loss by up to 10 times, leading to a thin appearance and possibly even bald spots. 

6. Insomnia

If you’ve ever laid in bed racing through everything on your to-do list, you know that stress can mess with your sleep. Women in particular are vulnerable to sleep disruptions, with 57 percent of women reporting trouble falling asleep, 50 percent having trouble staying asleep, and a whopping 61 percent not feeling rested in the morning. Compared to 38, 38, and 45 percent for men, respectively, it’s clear that stress-related insomnia is a big issue for women.

7. Depression and Anxiety

With all the ways that stress affects your well-being, it’s no wonder that stress left unchecked can lead to depression and anxiety. Between poor sleep, an unhealthy diet, and hormones gone astray, chronic stress has all the makings of a mood disorder, especially when you’re not equipped with healthy coping strategies.

It’s clear that stress isn’t good for you. But what can you do about it?

Stress is an inevitable part of life and avoiding it isn’t the answer. Without stress, you’d never get that promotion, take the risk that leads to your dream job, or work through your relationship issues. What’s important is how you manage stress.

The best weapon any woman has against chronic stress is her lifestyle. Arm your body with the energy it needs to face life’s pressures by incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine. That means getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night, exercising regularly, and eating a wholesome diet rich in fresh vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins, and all the nutrients you need to keep your body and brain performing at peak condition.

When a healthy lifestyle alone isn’t cutting it, turn to self-care to boost your mental health. Treat yourself to your favorite relaxing activities, spend time with supportive friends, and take a step back from work to focus on your personal needs. 

However you tackle stress, don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself. When you’re as happy and healthy as you can be, you can be your best self every day — and that’s good for everyone.

 

Author: Julia Merrill

 

Julia is a retired board certified nurse practitioner. She started BefriendYourDoc to close the gap between medical providers and their patients. 




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