Fight-or-Flight: 7 Surprising Side Effects of Stress. Stress is the human body’s natural response to danger, worry, and any sort of threat to an individual’s wellbeing. Though the cause of stress is different for everyone, there are common triggers that can contribute, including times of uncertainty, significant life changes, feeling under pressure, a loss of control, and being too busy.
Humans are hardwired to withstand a finite amount of stress during their day-to-day, but when stress levels spike to overwhelming or chronic levels, what was once shrugged off as 9-to-5 tension quickly escalates, leading to adverse emotional and physical effects. For example, it’s common to hear about stress-related headaches, insomnia, and muscle tension. While these symptoms are some of the best known, you may be experiencing other surprising stress-related side effects prone to flying under the radar.
A decreased libido
During high-stress events, the body shifts its energy to fundamental survival functions through what’s commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” response. Physically, stress can lead to a release of hormones meant to respond to increased heart rates, breathing rates, and blood pressure, which diminishes non-essential functions such as procreation. Mentally, stress can fill your mind with unpleasant thoughts, which may make it hard to focus on getting intimate.
Women are twice as likely to experience this side effect as men. Fortunately, there are female sex drive resources like these to help address and overcome this often frustrating stress symptom.
The same fight-or-flight hormones that affect libido are also linked to weight gain. Under severe stress, your body is simply trying to survive, which means it increases the amount of fat it stores. Coupled with an increase in unhealthy food cravings–particularly sugary and fatty foods–it’s common to put on some weight while under increased pressure.
The stress hormone cortisol can wreak havoc on your brain by making it harder to form new memories, which results in short-term memory loss. Stress has also been shown to impede memory recall and negatively impact spatial memory. Completely forget where you put your keys or cell phone? A tight deadline or family emergency might be to blame.
Compromised immune system
When exposed to ongoing stressed, your body is less likely to fight off infection successfully. While potentially also hormone-related, a weakened immune system may result from other impacts of stress–namely, less sleep and exercise and a poor diet. You’ll be more susceptible to everything from the common cold to shingles, which has been linked to chronic stress.
Hair and nail growth
Everyone knows that stress can cause grey hair, but it may also lead to hair loss and stunted growth of the hair and nails. It’s thought hormones play a role in the effects stress has on hair and nails. However, much like a compromised immune system, your daily habits may crumble under the pressure of incoming presentations, steering your health down a bumpy (and processed-food-lined) road. In cases of binge snacking and junk food extravaganzas, be conscious of your diet and get extra help from biotin, Vitamins C, D, and E, Iron, and Zinc.
There is a strong link between your brain and gut. Surprisingly, your gut health is contingent on the health of its partner in crime–your brain. How so? When you’re under stress, it often triggers IBS-like symptoms, including acid reflux, bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Stress affects what nutrients your body absorbs, how quickly it processes food, and can even cause spasms in your gut.
If you have a history of respiratory illness, such as asthma, stress can aggravate or worsen your symptoms. Those who don’t have a respiratory disease are not at risk of developing one due to stress. Although, these stress cases and nervous nellies should still be mindful of this side effect. In most cases, chronic stress will lead to panic attacks, which often come with difficulty breathing.
While it may be challenging to distinguish everyday stress from unbearable emotional anguish, avoid settling for anxiety-filled existence. Instead, pry your life from stress’s pinching grip and release the tension holding you back.