Stress is one of the most common men’s wellness complaints. Learn about the mental and physical impact that chronic stress has on your body and be prepared to start making changes to your lifestyle now to reduce stress.
Stress can stop you reaching your full potential. Chronic stress is linked to various mental and physical illnesses which can lead to poorer health and lower life expectancy.
Despite all the evidence, many people do not realise the physical impact that stress can have on their bodies. A recent survey found that around one quarter of respondents incorrectly believed that stress is strictly mental with no impact on physical health.
Even though there’s nothing unmanly about suffering from stress, many of us chaps are reluctant to open-up about our experiences and take meaningful action.
With modern life being so stressful, there are a lot of benefits in understanding how stress works, how it impacts your body, and what can be done to mitigate the exposure and impact.
So, it’s time to get over yourself and your prejudices and start taking some action now!
Which health problems are associated with stress?
We have all seen how short-term stress can be good for you. Stress is what helps you meet daily challenges and motivates you to accomplish your goals.
In these instances, our bodies benefit from the short term boost that stress response hormones such as adrenaline provide. What's more, the stress does not last long enough for the harmful side-effects of these hormones to take their toll.
On the contrary, the human body is not designed to deal with long term stress. Chronic stress caused by modern life is linked to a multitude of health problems since overexposure to stress response hormones gradually contributes to the wear and tear of your body.
Sufferers of chronic stress are more likely to go onto develop mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders, as well as cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks and strokes.
Stress also causes your muscles to tighten giving you back aches, muscle aches and worsening arthritic pain.
Other problems include those stemming from a weakened immune system and chronic inflammation including cancers.
Oh, and it can also wreak havoc on your sex life by lowering testosterone levels, trigger asthma attacks, worsen sleep, contribute to weight gain and even give you diabetes.
Overproduction of stress-response hormones
When you experience a prolonged period of stress your body thinks that it is under constant attack.
With only a finite amount of LDL cholesterol - the building block for hormones - your body freaks out and keeps on producing stress-response hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol at the expense of other important hormones such as testosterone. This disturbs the fine balance of hormones in your body.
High-levels of cortisol can cause hippocampal brain damage which is responsible for consolidating information as well as long and short term memory. It can also disturb your circadian rhythm, messing up your sleep-wake cycle and mood.
Low testosterone levels can lead to a variety of problems. It reduces male sex drive, sperm count, muscle strength and energy levels whilst increasing the risk of having some chronic diseases.
Stress suppresses your immune system and gut function causing chronic inflammation. Essentially your immune system believes that your body is under constant threat of damage and goes into a permanent heightened state of response to remove harmful stimuli and begin the healing process.
Chronic inflammation underpins pretty much every degenerative disease there is including some cancers, heart attacks, strokes, rheumatoid arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease.
What's more, excessive stress hormones such as cortisol reduce lymphocyte levels which are responsible for identifying and killing off toxins and other foreign substances which can cause disease. This makes your body more susceptible to illness and contributes to problems such as indigestion, heartburn, weight gain, fatigue and lower sex drive.
Digestive System Shut Down
The toning down of your digestive system can lead to both the over supply or under supply of digestive acids. Over supply can lead to heartburn while under supply makes your stomach unable to digest food properly reducing the overall absorption of vitamins. As a result, you may experience stomach pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and constipation.
Poor Heart and Cardiovascular Health
Too much stress increases your risk of heart and cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and strokes. Stress quickens your pulse, constricts blood vessels, thickens blood and increases blood pressure.
Higher levels of cortisol and other stress response hormones in the bloodstream exacerbate inflammation and signal the release of fatty acids leading to the production of low density cholesterol (aka the bad type). Heart disease occurs when your heart’s blood supply becomes blocked or interrupted due to the build-up of fatty acids and cholesterol in the arteries.
Stressed eating can inflame the arterial walls further by adding toxins to the bloodstream and increasing blood sugar levels. This creates the perfect storm for a heart attack.
There is also strong evidence to suggest a link between stress and metabolic syndrome which is essentially a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure and obesity. This increases the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
Stress can also impact your musculoskeletal system. When under stress, vein constriction causes your muscles to tighten and contract to protect you from injury and pain. For cases of short term stress, the tension is released gradually as the stress dissipates. In cases of prolonged stress, sustained muscle tension can lead to aches and pains across the body, leading in some instances to the onset of headaches and migraines.
Poor Personal Choices
Having to deal with stress puts you under additional pressure which may lead to you adopting more harmful addictive habits to relieve symptoms. Such habits include drinking excessive alcohol, smoking, solvent abuse, oversleeping and overeating. The trouble is that these habits can lead to further health problems.
Stress can make you fat. Even though it is possible for some people to lose weight under prolonged stress, too much cortisol can increase your appetite for carbohydrates and sugars leading to cravings and overeating. Have you ever tried to diet whilst doing a stressful job?
Furthermore, any excess glucose that remains from the glucose synthesis initiated as part of the stress response is stored as fat in your tissues exacerbating weight gain.
This may all sound pretty gloomy. Chronic stress is linked to more illnesses and diseases than you may be able to count. However, there is some good news. There are plenty of preventative actions you can take to limit the chances of ending up with a stress related illness.
The key is to understand what is causing you to feel stressed in the first place and to take steps to improve your lifestyle and make yourself more resilient. This is a perfect example of how preventative actions now can lead to a healthier and happier life.
Interested in finding out how stressed you are? Take our stress quiz now to find out.
This article was created for informational purposes only and does not necessarily represent the views of For Chaps Ltd. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.