Chronic stress can take a toll on your body in more ways than you may realize. One of the most common is cardiovascular problems, due to the higher heart rate, quicker breathing, and faster blood flow. The longer these reactions continue, the more strain you put on your heart. The results could be a heart attack or stroke.
When you’re stressed, the brain releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into your blood. Too many hormones running through your body can lead to high blood pressure or heart disease. The cortisol can also increase fat levels deposited in the abdomen, resulting in obesity. Raised glucose levels may also cause diabetes, as can unhealthy eating and excessive drinking related to stress.
Other illnesses caused by stress can include irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel conditions, and gastroesophageal reflux. Prolonged stress affects how the digestive system processes food, causing the pain and discomfort of such gastrointestinal issues.
Pain and stress go hand-in-hand, though the type of pain you experience can vary. Several chronic pain conditions can be triggered by stress, including headaches and migraines. When you’re under stress, your muscles tighten, leading to tension, particularly in the lower back.
Though some believe that stress comes from insomnia, it may be the other way around. Stress can keep you awake, leading to exhaustion and more stress since you didn’t get enough sleep. The cycle repeats, with higher stress levels and more difficulty sleeping.
Even sexual or fertility issues are illnesses caused by stress. Men could experience lower testosterone levels, a reduced sperm count, and erectile dysfunction or impotence. Women may experience irregular or heavier periods with increased discomfort. A lower sex drive is also part of chronic stress for men and women.
Several mental and neurological illnesses can be caused by prolonged stress. Anxiety is one of the most common, often accompanied by a rapid heartbeat, tightness in the chest, and panic attacks. Higher stress levels lead to more frequent instances of anxiety.
Depression is also linked to chronic stress, often due to higher cortisol levels or alterations in the brain. Even environmental factors can contribute. Stress-related depression can lead to changes in mood, sleep habits, appetite, feelings of isolation, and a lack of interest in activities.
Though Alzheimer’s isn’t one of the illnesses caused by stress, the two are linked. Some evidence suggests stress causes faster forming brain lesions while reducing stress can slow the disease’s progression.