Everybody knows stress is no good for you. But aside from the obvious harms it causes — sleepless nights, high blood pressure and the like — it also can impact your health in ways that might surprise you.
In recent years, research has found that stress can impact our well-being in a variety of hidden ways. Following are some sneaky ways stress quietly ruins your life.
1. It accelerates the aging of your immune system
As we grow older, our immune system naturally grows weaker. Add stress into the mix, and you make a bad situation even worse.
As we recently reported, certain types of stress are particularly bad for the body’s ability to fight illness. For more, check out “4 Types of Stress That May Age Your Immune System.”
2. It destroys your teeth
Too much stress might put your oral health in jeopardy. A 2012 study concluded that “stress may be considered as an important risk factor for periodontal disease.”
The study found that people who are 40 and older and who have high levels of cortisol — the so-called “stress hormone” — in their saliva are at higher risk for periodontitis.
The study authors concluded:
“A significant association was established between work tension, economic problems, insecure job and chronic periodontitis.”
3. It makes you fat
Does stress make you binge on comfort foods? There may be a physiological basis behind your cravings.
That old devil cortisol is responsible again. When stress causes cortisol levels to rise, insulin levels also spike. That causes your blood sugar levels to fall and makes you crave high-fat, sugar-rich foods.
While eating such foods may actually trigger a chemical reaction that causes you to feel more relaxed in the moment, you pay a heavy price as your waistline expands.
4. It turns you bald
A fire of anxiety in the attic can melt the snow covering the roof: Yes, stress can make you bald.
At least one type of hair loss — telogen effluvium — is the result of too much stress. In this condition, an abnormally large number of hair follicles move into the resting phase, as opposed to the growth phase.
When this happens, you shed unusually large amounts of hair.
Significant levels of emotional stress appear to be one trigger for this condition. Fortunately, it’s usually temporary, although it can be chronic for some.
5. It triggers premature birth
In many cases, the cause of premature birth remains a mystery. But science now suggests that stress may play a role.
Researchers have found evidence that pregnant women who feel stressed may produce enough cortisol to trigger a cascade of hormones that causes labor to begin early.
6. It undermines your therapy
Most of us know that when we are severely stressed, we have a tendency to fly off the handle. But science suggests that even mild stress gradually erodes our ability to regulate emotions.
In fact, therapies and techniques proven to be effective at helping to reduce social anxiety and other psychiatric conditions may falter when we are under stress.
7. It curbs your dating prospects
You probably don’t hide your stressful feelings as effectively as you imagine, and that can be a major turn-off to potential love interests.
8. It’s a pain in the neck — and back
Stress can cause tension in your neck that leads to muscle discomfort and headaches. It also can cause your breathing patterns to shift and your shoulders to hunch, resulting in pain in the mid-back region of the body.