Many doctor appointments and emergency room visits occur because of stress-related illness. Stress is closely related to anxiety, with the main difference being that stress is caused by external factors while anxiety is internal. Thus, if you dwell too long on something that stresses you out, the result is anxiety.
Frequent or near-constant anxiety is often the result of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the US, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
We’ll talk more about how people can literally get sick from stress in this article.
1. Aches and Pains
It’s pretty well-known by now that stress can cause headaches. The problem is that many doctors don’t bother to explain why.
The answer has nothing to do with your skull or brain. Stress headaches are actually caused by muscles.
You’ve probably heard the expression ‘scared stiff.’ This is a great explanation of how stress and anxiety work.
The body commonly responds to stress by tightening muscles, including the ones in our heads. People often describe tension headaches as feeling like a rubber band is wrapped around their head, which is essentially what the muscles are doing when they tighten.
Backaches and muscle aches can also be caused by stress and for the same reason. The muscles tighten, and they end up triggering a nerve, which creates pain.
2. Digestive Issues
Do you commonly have stomach aches, heartburn, reflux, or digestive issues? These could be caused by stress.
While we don’t know what the link is between stress and stomach acid, evidence points to a link of some kind. Some theorize that stress turns up our pain receptors or weakens a few of our natural acid defenses.
Thus, our level of stomach acid may remain the same, but our body has a lower tolerance to it for a certain amount of time. Others say that stomach acid increases when we’re stressed out.
In addition to issues with stomach acid, stress can also affect our digestion. Our digestive system hosts one of the largest concentrations of neurotransmitters and neurons in the human body.
When our brain starts to panic, our digestion does, too. In moments of stress, our bodies don’t process food as efficiently or may stop processing entirely. The result can be pain and constipation.
Diarrhea can also result from stress and the brain’s relation to the digestive tract. This is more evidence that you can, quite literally, get sick from stress.
3. Blood Pressure and Sugar
Muscles aren’t the only things that constrict in response to stress. Blood vessels do it, too. If stress is not managed properly, chronic stress could lead to high blood pressure, which comes with its own set of problems.
High blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for heart attacks and stroke. Both are among the most common causes of death worldwide.
High blood sugar is yet another issue that can be caused by chronic stress. Sugar is produced in our liver. Stress excites the liver, so it creates more sugar than usual.
Like a lot of entries on this list occasional bouts of stress are not a problem. A certain amount of stress is completely natural. Chronic stress, however, can push blood sugar levels into a higher range than normal and eventually result in Type 2 Diabetes.
Worrying a lot isn’t fun, but worrying a lot at night is even worse. Nighttime anxiety often leads to insomnia. Loss of sleep can cause us to become more stressed out and irritable the following day, which may hinder our sleep that night, thus creating a troublesome cycle.
It’s not just daily stresses that can cause nightly stress. People prone to sleepwalking or nightmares may be reluctant to fall asleep.
We may have issues with snoring or grinding our teeth at night. These issues may be treated with nasal strips or a soft night guard, respectively.
5. Sex and Reproductive Issues
Many sexual and fertility issues can be linked to stress. This is true regardless of your gender.
For those who are biologically male, one of the most common, and definitely the most infamous issue is erectile dysfunction. Stress-related ED is also called performance anxiety.
Among women, stress can cause irregular or even missed periods. The good news is that menstruation will likely return to normal once the stressful event has passed. If irregular or missed periods occur for more than three months, you should see a doctor.
Stress can not only make it difficult to have sex, it can make you simply not want to. This is because stress increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is triggered largely by stress.
The big problem with cortisol is that it interferes with other hormones, including those responsible for arousal. This makes it harder for us to get in the mood, and harder to reach orgasm.
Sick from Stress: How Stress Impacts Us
Getting sick from stress is not only possible, it’s quite common. The end results can even be fatal if left untreated.
There are many issues associated with stress, too much to mention in a single article. It may be a good idea to do more research if you want to cut back on stress. It turns out that there’s a whole host of ways to make life easier and calmer.
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