The Effects of Stress

We all know that the effects of stress are wide-reaching, and that it can take a toll both physically and emotionally. But how exactly does stress affect our bodies? In honor of National Stress Awareness Month this April, we’ve put together a primer on the effects of stress.

Stress Levels Are Increasing

Effects of Stress

I’m sure no one would be surprised to hear that stress levels have increased over the past few years. According to the American Psychological Association, 2 in 3 adults report experiencing increased stress during the Covid-19 pandemic. Other estimates show that around 1 in 4 adults suffer from psychological stress or even post-traumatic stress because of the pandemic. Add that to social and political unrest, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, skyrocketing housing and grocery costs, and let’s not forget the murder hornet invasion, and it’s pretty easy to see why our stress levels feel like they’re at an all-time high. I mean, GIANT MURDER HORNETS. Seriously?

The Effects of Stress on the Body

All this stress impacts our bodies in multiple ways. Psychological stress triggers the release of stress hormones that can interfere with the way our body’s systems normally function. Stress can cause our muscles to tense up, leading to headaches, pain, and an increased likelihood of injury. It can make our airway constrict and cause breathing issues like shortness of breath or even asthma attacks.

Short-term stress can increase blood pressure and inflammation in the body. Chronic stress can affect our heart and blood vessels. Stress of all kinds can impact our gastrointestinal system and lead to bloating, stomach pain, constipation, gassiness, and diarrhea.

Stress can also impact the nervous system, the immune system, the reproductive system… pretty much all the systems. It can lead to increased belly fat, insomnia, heartburn, and more.

The Effects of Stress on the Mind

Obviously, stress affects our mental health. When we’re stressed, we’re less likely to make healthy eating choices. We’re less able to motivate ourselves to work out. We may become withdrawn and socially isolate ourselves, which can further impact our mental health negatively.

In addition to the obvious effects of stress on our emotions, this insidious culprit can affect our mood indirectly, as well. Because there are strong ties to gut health and the brain, gastrointestinal issues caused by stress can compound the mental health issues we’re already facing.

The Effects of Stress on the Skin

Our body’s largest organ–the skin–is not immune to the negative impact of stress. In fact, research has uncovered something called the Brain-Skin Connection, a link between our emotional state and our skin’s physiology.

This connection was demonstrated in a clinical study, where researchers used three different types of stress to measure its impact on skin: sleep deprivation, psychologic stress from interviews, and exercise. This study showed that stress from sleep deprivation and the interviews increased water loss from the skin and reduced skin barrier function. Further studies have confirmed these effects.

In essence, stress makes it harder for our skin to function the way we want it to, which can lead to increased signs of aging. To add even more salt to the wound, stress can also cause an increase in skin blemishes and flareups.


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So, What Can You Do About It?

For mild to moderate stress, there are plenty of things that can help.

1. Focus on your health: Meditation, exercise, drinking plenty of water, and eating a healthy diet can all help your body function better, despite the stress you face.

2. Connect: Connecting with family and friends more often can boost your mood and help reduce feelings of stress. If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that social isolation can really make feelings of stress and sadness worse. Let your loved ones know you need some extra support and take time for lunch with friends or a girls’ night out.

Effects of Stress

3. Sleep: If at all possible, get enough sleep. For many of us, restful sleep is the first thing to go when we’re feeling stressed, but its importance for all aspects of our health cannot be overstated. If worrying about your inability to sleep because you’re stressed is making you more stressed (I’ve been caught in that loop, and it is miserable), talk to your healthcare provider about medications or other options that may help.

4. Journal: Keeping a journal can also be a great way to reduce stress. Writing down what you’re worried about can help get those fears out of your head and seeing them on paper often makes them feel a little more manageable.

5. Volunteer: Volunteering has been shown to offer a host of positive effects. In Annual Review of Sociology volume 26, it was shown to improve life satisfaction, self-esteem, and self-rated health. In youth, it’s even been shown to reduce school truancy and drug abuse.

6. Get professional help: If you are dealing with severe or long-term stress, or if feel like you can’t handle life, please get help. Talk to your doctor, call a help line, or set up a counseling appointment. You deserve to feel better. For more resources, visit