First things first. Not all stress is bad. Some stress is great! This is called Eustress. It’s what helps you rise to the occasion, such as crushing a presentation or responding to a fire or crossing a race finish line. Eustress is short-lived.
Distress is the stress I’m talking about here, and the type you most often hear about (and probably feel). It’s the kind that seems to never end, drags you down, sends you to the junk food, keeps you up at night, and makes you a bit moody.
It also wrecks your health in a number of ways.
Here are three:
1. Your Gut: Stress wrecks your gut in a few ways, a 2017 study by Habib Yaribeygi, et. al, identifies six. One of the six is that stress slows digestion and increases contractions (“motility”) of the colon. This can lead to an upset stomach, diarrhea, or bloating. Or it can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux.
Stress is also related to inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and IBS. “It has been suggested that even childhood stress can lead to these diseases in adulthood,” the study references.
2. Immunity: Here too, inflammation plays a role (thanks to excess cortisol). Chronic stress weakens the immune system. Stress decreases your white blood cell count so you are less able to fight off things like the common cold or the flu.
Cleveland Clinic also notes that, if left unmanaged, chronic stress and thus chronic inflammation can contribute to development of diseases such as: arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis.
3. Skin: Stress shows on your skin (and hair and nails) in a few ways too, thanks to the “brain-skin connection.” In a nutshell, stress plays a role in a number of skin conditions and skin aging. These conditions include: acne, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis.
Stress messes with the normal function of your skin. Skin also plays a role in immunity. It acts as a barrier between you and the outside world. Stress messes with skin’s barrier function. (Ying and Lyga, 2014)
What Can You Do?
Find a coping mechanism for your stress. Give yourself permission to experiment until you find the one that works for you. You may need more than one, depending on the situation.
My favorites, and ones that work well for my clients, include:
- Take a walk (even a two-minute stroll, preferably outside can work wonders)
- Breathe (pressed for time? Try the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise)
- Write it out (grab a pen and paper and bullet it out: X happened. It made me feel. Other ways I can look at this are…)
References and Further Reading
- (n.d.). 5 Things You Should Know About Stress. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
- Chen, Y., & Lyga, J. (2014). Brain-skin connection: stress, inflammation and skin aging. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
- (2007, November 12). Feeling Stressed? How Your Skin, Hair And Nails Can Show It. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071109194053.htm
- Team, J. (2019, January 2). What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out? Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/
- Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017, July 21). The impact of stress on body function: A review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/