A crazy work schedule, busy family life, and a rigorous fitness regimen can all add up to stress, even if the stressor is a positive one. “Stress is a physiological and emotional response to a threat,” says John McGrail, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based clinical hypnotherapist and author of “The Synthesis Effect: Your Direct Path to Personal Power and Transformation.” “It’s biologically meant to be a short-term condition to get us out of a threatening or dangerous situation.”
The problem is that modern society often creates long-term chronic stress, which can be devastating to both the mind and body. The effects of chronic stress can manifest in some surprising ways that you may not have realized. Read on to discover 10 weird side effects of stress.
1. Stress Slows Recovery From a Workout
High levels of stress hormones circulating through your system can make it harder for your body to recover from a workout, according to a study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. The study evaluated the relationship between perceived mental stress and workout recovery among 31 college students and found that the students with high levels of stress experienced worse recoveries as rated by feelings of energy, fatigue and soreness.
Since elevated cortisol levels break down muscle and store fat, chronic stress keeps hormones jacked up, which delays your workout recovery.
2. Stress Messes With Your Memory
Trying to remember where you put your car keys becomes even harder when you’re stressed about getting to your appointment on time, says a study from the Nature Reviews Neuroscience. The study shows stress creates changes in the brain that can produce long-term consequences for mental performance.
Another study from the University of Iowa links high levels of stress with changes in the short-term memory center of the brain in older rats. Stress can ‘fog up’ your memory, so remembering simple things becomes a monumental hurdle. Go for a relaxing walk outside to de-stress and keep all your marbles.
3. Stress Causes Weight Gain
Can stress make you fat? Apparently so. According to a study in the journal Obesity, which followed 5,000 people over five years, psychosocial stress, including life events and perceived stress, links to weight gain but not weight loss. People tend to reach for sugary, fatty and salty foods when they’re stressed.
In addition, research suggests eating fatty foods when your cortisol levels are high (such as when under stress) actually lowers your metabolism. Swap your fast-food fixes for healthier choices and wean yourself off addictive junk food.
4. Stress Keeps You Up at Night
Stress over work issues or life events can keep you tossing and turning all night, taking away from restful sleep. This loss of sleep links to a number of health issues, including a greater risk of heart disease and obesity and a compromised immune system.
Problem is, it’s a vicious cycle, where insomnia worsens stress and depression, which then keeps you up at night. Sleep better and de-stress at the same time by exercising 30 minutes on most days of the week.
5. Stress Weakens Your Immune System
Chronic stress can make it harder for you to fend off viruses and bugs by lowering your immune system response, shows a study from the journal Psychological Bulletin. Interestingly, the study shows that short-term stress (such as a sudden reaction to a life-and-death situation) produced beneficial changes in the immune system.
But the more chronic the stress, the greater negative impact on the immune system, which researchers believe may be due to hormonal changes. Listen to calming music to help take the edge off.
6. Stress Triggers Hair Loss
If you’ve ever seen fur fly off Fido when you bring him to the vet, you’ve witnessed the direct and instant effect of stress on hair loss. Although not as dramatic in humans, a traumatic event or stressor can cause hair loss two to three months afterward, says Robert Dorin, D.O., New York-based hair-restoration expert.
Telogen effluvium is a condition caused by stress in which the hairs’ growth phase is prematurely shifted into its resting phase, resulting in thinning of the hair, he says. Psychological and/or physical stressors such as depression, anxiety, lack of sleep and chronic illness can all trigger telogen effluvium. Fortunately, it does not cause permanent damage and improves once the stress resolves, says Dorin.
7. Stress Wrecks Sexual Performance
Stress can also take the wind out of your sails in the bedroom. This can occur in a variety of ways, says Muhammad Mirza, M.D., a men’s health expert and founder of erectiledoctor.com. “Stress can make a man feel no longer interested in sexual activity altogether. Feeling stressed about intimacy itself can result in performance anxiety.”
Left on its own, ongoing stress can also cause chemical and hormonal changes that can lead to worsening sexual problems in the form of erectile dysfunction and/or loss of libido, says Mirza.
Stress-induced performance anxiety can be tackled most efficiently with the help of a qualified sex therapist or mental health professional who deals with sexual dysfunction in men.
8. Stress Impacts Vision
Stress-related eye symptoms range from simple eye twitches to hysterical blindness (reduced peripheral vision), says Andrea Thau, O.D., spokeswoman for the American Optometric Association (AOA). Hysterical blindness requires identifying the underlying cause of the emotional stress. A more common symptom, an eyelid twitch called myokymia, can also be induced by stress. In addition to eliminating the cause of the stress, Thau recommends alternating hot and cold compresses or drinking tonic water (which contains quinine). In rare instances, if it lasts for a few weeks, it may require further evaluation by your eye doctor.
9. Stress Causes Type 2 Diabetes
Men under chronic stress have a substantially higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, compared with men who report no stress or occasional stress, says a Swedish study. More than 6,800 men involved with the study rated their stress level on a six-point scale based on factors such as irritation, anxiety and conditions at work and home.
Men who reported permanent stress related to work or home conditions within the previous one to five years had a 45 percent higher risk of developing diabetes. To stop stress from affecting your health, you must learn to adapt and adjust, says Pamela Peeke, M.D., senior science adviser for Elements Behavioral Health. “When you feel stressed, start looking for solutions. If there’s no way around it, learn how to change your attitude towards the situation.”
10. Stress Triggers Allergy Attacks
If you noticed an uptick in your allergy symptoms, it could be related to your new job or home stresses, according to an Ohio State University study. The 12-week study involved 179 patients and found increased allergy flare-ups linked within days of increased daily stress. And in a high-stress group, 64 percent had more than four flare-ups over two 14-day periods.
Practicing regular meditation can help ease stress, says Pamela Peeke, M.D., senior science adviser for Elements Behavioral Health, who practices transcendental meditation.