The Impact of Stress on our Physical Health

Stressful events, social pressure, professional and personal issues experienced on a daily basis can contribute to stress accumulating over time which can have an impact on our wellbeing, both physical and mental. However, the ways stress manifests itself into our physical health can take many shapes or forms. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the common ways stress can manifest itself in our physical health in order to identify the potential triggers and solutions. Read the following Pharmica article in order to learn more about what is stress, the common triggers and physical symptoms associated with it.

What is Stress?

Before discussing the implications of constant stress on our physical health, it is important to understand what is stress. Throughout human evolution, stress was developed as a physical body reaction to a specific stimulus like potential dangers, wellbeing hazards and even life-threatening conditions. However, nowadays the amount of dangers like this that we are experiencing is significantly lower but our stress mechanism still responds to other events, maintaining our self-preservation mechanisms.

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The way stress works is by sending a signal to our brain that, in response, changes our body functions like our heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. As a result, due to the signal reaching the hypothalamus, adrenaline (or epinephrine) is released from the adrenal glands, which increases our heart rate pattern as well as blood pressure as a part of our ‘fight or flight response that was used for self-preservation.

As a result of this adrenaline release, our bodies are switched into the alertness stage where our bodies keep developing relevant chemicals to maintain the alertness until the perceived threat is no longer present. However, this system is not perfect and the chemicals like cortisol can still maintain their production even after the perceived threat is not present anymore leading to the constant development of adrenaline and perceived stress levels, sometimes even forming a chronic pattern.

As a result, our bodies can remain in that state for a longer period of time, leading to physical health conditions occurring from stress levels that are listed below:

Hair Loss:

One of the impacts of consistent stress that could reflect on our physical health is the increased rate of hair loss. Due to the release of cortisol hormone that is produced during our ‘flight or fight response to potential threats, the hair follicle growth cycle could be disrupted. As a result of that, hair growth patterns and cycles could be disrupted, shortening the stages that are responsible for hair growth and prolonging hair growth resting stages.

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This condition is called Telogen Effluvium (or TE) which directly causes more rapid and extensive hair loss after experiencing emotional distress as well as other factors like surgeries or illnesses. When the TE occurs after an emotionally (or physically) stressful event, the hair growth cycles stop and switch to the telogen phase (the resting phase) which lasts for up to three months before starting the exogen (shedding phase). Therefore, the 3-month difference can be explained by the delay in our hair loss response to stress. This is due to the fact that whenever we experience stress, our bodies prioritise our essential body functions to save and prioritise energy where hair growth is considered to be less important leading to slow resource allocation. As a result, TE can affect half of our scalp hair for up to 6 months.

The good news is, however, that this condition is reversible and can stop taking effect over longer periods of time. In order to accelerate hair growth, dealing with stressful triggers could be a sustainable long-term solution for hair loss. Another relevant and effective way of dealing with stress-related hair loss is using clinically proven, safe and effective hair loss treatments like products that contain Minoxidil or Finasteride. These treatments are proven to be effective at halting the hair loss rates while encouraging hair growth when it is most needed.

Changes in Weight:

Another physical health area that could be affected by stress is the change in our body weight levels, especially weight gain. One of the key contributing factors that could encourage weight gain is the activation of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine pathway caused by stress that is produced glucocorticosteroids in our blood flow, increasing our desire to eat. As a result of stress, we become more prone to eating unhealthy foods to cope with the distress as well as eating bigger volumes of food. Furthermore, experiencing stress over long periods of time could make the condition chronic resulting in poor motivation and a potentially less healthy lifestyle with reduced rates of exercise, healthy dieting and further stress management. As a result of all of these factors, the risk of poor weight management could occur and the evidence shows that more stressed individuals could be potentially more likely to gain more weight compared to their conditions before stress.

In order to ensure that this risk is minimised, it could be beneficial to identify the potential stress triggers that could be linked to stress eating in order to take action and minimise the impact. Furthermore, in case if weight loss is a priority goal for adults with a BMI of 30 and above, effective and clinically proven weight loss treatments like Orlistat can be used in order to maximise weight loss results in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise routine.

Heart Health Complications:

Finally, one of the most important impacts of constant stress is the strain that it places on our heart health. A prolonged release of adrenaline could narrow down the blood vessels and worsen the blood pressure levels, increasing the amount of pressure placed on our hearts. This is especially important considering the fact that stress might encourage unhealthy habits like smoking, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, less exercise and generally more unhealthy routine can become common coping mechanisms.

Consumption of higher levels of tobacco and alcohol affects the blood pressure levels as well as narrowing down our blood vessels while an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise can lead to bad cholesterol build up in our blood vessels, further increasing risks of cardiovascular diseases. These diseases (CADs) can manifest in many various ways, some of which could be life life-threatening over the long run. The symptoms include but are not limited to shortness of breath, heart attacks, pains and, in combination with stress, could even cause ED in men, requiring erectile dysfunction treatments to manage the symptoms in case if it occurs. However, if you believe that you are experiencing any of the CAD symptoms, it is really important to ensure that you consult with a professional to ensure that the early warning signs like shortness of breath and chest pains are not associated with CAD, providing a chance to treat this condition as early as possible.

In summary, experiencing stress could have a serious impact on our physical well-being, especially if this condition becomes chronic over longer periods of time. It is important to ensure that you are aware of the potential risks involved as well as making sure that you are aware of your stress triggers that could amplify the impact. Consulting with close people as well as professionals could provide much-needed advice on how to manage stress levels and how to ensure that you minimise the risk associated with this condition.

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