5 Things You Didn’t Know Stress Could Cause
Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, including weight gain and premature aging. Here are five things stress could be doing to you.
Stress is a sense of apprehension or perceived threat that results in psychological and physical symptoms. Although occasional stress can help you manage tasks and learn to focus, feeling under pressure for prolonged periods of time can have long-lasting and damaging effects on your body. In case you needed more motivation to de-stress than just a peaceful mind, we’ve compiled a list of effects that stress can have on both your mental and physical well-being.
Stress eating – we’ve all heard of it. But can you actually gain weight from being stressed? Yes. According to WebMD, although stress itself does not cause weight gain, the three hormones your body releases during times of stress – adrenal, corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol – can lead to increased hunger and eventual weight gain.
Your body’s response to stress harkens back to evolutionary times. When faced with a predator, your neuroendocrine system – a brain-to-body connection – would release these hormones to give you the biochemical strength you needed to fight or flee from your predators. Adrenalin provides instant energy and decreases appetite alongside CRH. While the effects of adrenalin and CRH don’t usually last very long, cortisol is meant to replenish your body after the stress has subsided so its levels remain elevated for a longer period of time. During this time, your appetite increases and you are driven to eat more.
This bodily response worked well when you were defending your young from saber-toothed tigers, but when your stress is triggered by less active scenarios such as paying a bill or finishing a work project, eating more is less likely to replenish your body and more likely to cause weight gain.
Instead of reaching for that bag of chips, the next time you feel stressed, try going outside and taking a few deep breaths until your heart rate steadies and you begin to feel more relaxed.
On game days, athletes often wake up with knots in their stomachs. As they begin their pre-game routine, the tension and anxiety build until they are unable to focus on anything but the impending competition. Even if you are not a competing athlete, the desire to improve – run faster, lift heavier, go longer – can result in sports performance anxiety. This stress can manifest as headaches or other physical problems that can cause you to lose focus during competition or while working out, and can increase your risk for sports injuries.
Performing simple mental exercises while training for, and on the day of, competition can significantly reduce performance anxiety. One technique used by sports psychologists involves teaching yourself to label your negative feelings of anxiety such as poor concentration, lack of confidence, increased heart rate and feelings of apprehension or sickness. Labeling allows you to redistribute these previously negative feelings and experiences with feelings of preparation for competition. For example: instead of associating an increased heart rate as something that will impede her performance during a triathlon, a runner can recognize that her increased heart rate is a sign that she is prepared for competition.
Simple breathing techniques can also have a significant impact on decreasing performance anxiety. Begin by finding a quiet space where you can be alone. Close your eyes and place both of your hands on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as you feel your stomach rise and fall while you breathe. As you continue to breathe, think about your best athletic performance and all the positive feelings you experienced during that time. This is a technique that is best developed over time, so take some time before each workout or practice to work on using breathing to reduce anxiety.
Genetic Defects That May Affect Your Future Children
According to a New Scientist study, the genetic impacts of environmental factors such as stress can be passed down to future generations. The process is referred to as epigenetic inheritance, or the theory that biological information is stored, read and replicated in the form of DNA. According to the study, enzymes in the body can respond to environmental factors by marking genes in a way that prevents them from working.
It has long been believed that any markings added to genes during life are erased as eggs and sperm develop in order to provide a genetic “blank slate” for the next generation. However, researchers from Cambridge University extracted the DNA from primordial mouse cells at various stages of their development and tracked any marked genes.
The study revealed that a tiny number – an average of just 233 out of about 25,000 – of marked genes survived in the germ cells examined. Although one study does not prove that your stress will cause genetic defects in your unborn children, dealing with stress properly can be advantageous to both you and (possibly) future generations.
Increased Risk For Cancer
In a study published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers used a group of mice as experimental models of prostate cancer to study the link between cancer and stress. While researchers treated all of the mice with anti-cancer drugs, they exposed only a select group of mice to the scent of a predator. The study revealed that the anti-cancer drug did not kill as many cancer cells in the mice that had been exposed to the predator scent. Additionally, the adrenaline produced when the mice were stressed prevented cancer cells from dying.
Scientists are currently researching anti-cancer drug alternatives that will address the link between stress and cancer. Researchers noted that the adrenaline-inhibiting beta-blockers, used to treat high blood pressure, might increase the effectiveness of cancer treatments. However, until more research is provided, keeping your stress in check may decrease your risk for cancer and other diseases. Signing up for a class such as yoga or pilates is a great way to stay active while learning to center yourself, focus on breathing techniques, and reduce stress.
In an article published in Psychology Today, 11 researchers discuss the effects of stress on the aging process. The article reports that environmental factors such as untreated depression, long-term unemployment, and anxiety attacks can shorten the length of each DNA strand and lead to premature aging.
Each of your cells has 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent. Each chromosome has two protective caps on the ends known as telomeres and as these telomeres shorten, cells age faster and die younger. After a certain amount of shrinkage, cells are no longer able to divide. This stage is referred to as “replicative senescence.” When replicative senescence occurs, your body is no longer able to eliminate worn-out cells, which can lead to premature aging and shortened life spans.
The article also discusses the ways in which mindful meditations can help stimulate positive genetic and molecular changes. Enrolling in a guided meditation just once a week could significantly reduce stress and decrease your risk for premature aging.
Have you taken any stress-reducing classes such as yoga, pilates, or guided meditation? How do you reduce stress before a competition or workout? Tell us in a comment below!