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The Effects of Stress on Your Body

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Stress sweeps through your body like a thunderbolt, wreaking havoc in its path. 

Causes of stress—work, relationships, kids, money issues, traffic jams—can make you feel like steam is shooting out the top of your head.

Stress doesn't just affect your thoughts, moods and behavior. It also spurs the release of several hormones in the body that can cause both physical and mental problems.

Increases in the stress hormone cortisol, for example, can lead to a number of problems, big and small. High levels of cortisol:

  • Cause excess oil production that can trigger skin breakouts
  • Slow your body's metabolism, which affects how much glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream, leading to spikes in insulin that can cause you to store abdominal fat
  • Create irregular menstrual cycles by suppressing production of estrogen and progesterone, which can make it difficult to conceive
  • In combination with adrenaline, can cause high blood pressure, a condition that can result in irregular heartbeat and constricted blood flow and may eventually lead to heart disease

 

Ever notice that when you're feeling tension, your muscles stiffen? This does more than induce poor posture. Tense neck muscles can lead to tension headaches. And muscles aren't the only things that seize up when you're stressed.

Your digestive system may also slow down. Certain kinds of stress cause your body to go into fight or flight mode, diverting energy away from all functions that are not immediately essential, such as breaking down that meal you just ate.

Finally, if stress levels aren't kept in check, they can potentially hinder the growth of cells in the hippocampus area of the brain. In addition to creating a feeling of stress and anxiety, this can contribute to feelings of depression.

Luckily, there are relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and tai chi that you can employ to help calm body and mind.

A 2013 study out of the University of California, Davis showed that mindful meditation, a type of yoga that focuses on meditation and breathing techniques, can lower the levels of stress hormone cortisol in the body.