We all experience stress in our daily lives – from relatively minor stress like the kind that comes with exams or an important presentation at work, to chronic anxiety-related stress that can have all sorts of causes.
But what most people don’t know is that stress, especially chronic stress, can have a devastating impact on your body.
While relatively minor sources of stress are normal, traumatic stress and chronic stress can significantly alter the way your body functions – even permanently.
Here are some ways in which stress is one of the most potent toxins we deal with in our daily lives.
1. Our Stress Levels Are Set Early On In Life
Recent research has shown that early childhood events, particularly traumatic ones, can set your levels of corticitropin releasing hormone at low or high.
Corticitropin releasing hormone, or CRH, is what regulates your adrenals, and by extension your stress levels – so individuals who have experienced significantly stressful or even traumatic events during childhood are more likely to suffer from chronic stress as adults(1).
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2. Stress Damages Our Brains
Significant enough levels of stress are known to cause damage to certain parts of the brain, including the hippocampus – the area responsible for memory. Many people living with post-traumatic stress, or PTSD, report memory problems; this is why(2).
Another way stress can damage our brains is by causing our brains to shut off the adrenal glands in order to save itself, causing “adrenal burnout”(3).
3. Stress Impairs Our Immune System
Stress is the ultimate immune system modulator. It can slow wound healing and increase your chances of developing infectious diseases(4) – it can even reactivate latent infections that you thought you had recovered from(5).
4. Stress Causes Damage On A Cellular Level
Chronic stress is terrible for your mitochondria – the energy powerhouses of your body. Increasing evidence shows that mitochondrial failure is a significant factor in the development of mental disorders like depression, meaning that stress can actually alter your body in a way that makes you more prone to mental illness(6).
5. Chronic Stress Hurts Your Heart
A little bit of short-term stress can be good for your cardiovascular system – the kind of immediate, brief stress you’d experience when you sprint, for example. But long-term, chronic stress has been shown to increase the thickness of artery walls, a factor which can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease(7).
6. Our Stress Levels Are Connected To Our Guts
Stress undoubtedly has a physical effect on our stomachs – you may remember a time when you were stressed out and it caused indigestion, or a sensation of your stomach being in knots.
The fact is, stress impacts the way your gut functions every single day. It can lead to constipation, re-circulating hormones through your liver, and increasing the growth of “bad” bacteria in your intestines.
It can also lead to something called “leaky gut” – a condition that happens when the carriers between the cells that line the intestines are loosened, which in turn causes inflammation, food sensitivities, and can even lead to autoimmune disease(8).
Managing Stress In Your Daily Life
While some situations that cause stress – particularly traumatic events – are beyond our control, there are things you can do to manage chronic stress in your day-to-day life.
Many people have found that mindfulness-based meditation practices are a boon when it comes to stress management(9).
Other stress management techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga, have also been studied, with promising results(10).
However you choose to manage your stress, know that it’s important to your long-term health to reduce the amount of chronic stress you experience by as much as possible.