Don’t panic, but stress is silently wreaking havoc on your body

Constant stress may be doing more damage than you think

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Noticed you're more stressed lately? After the year we just had, we don't blame you.

Stress is a common feeling, especially when you've got a lot going on in your life. Even though it may be normal to feel stressed, if you're finding yourself constantly feeling this way, it can have some major impact on your health and wellbeing. In fact, experts are saying it quietly damages your health and wellbeing in five big ways.

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Since April is considered Stress Awareness Month, certified functional medicine practitioner Dr. Vikki Petersen highlighted these effects in an effort to help you manage stress.

"The word 'stress’ is discussed often: ‘I had a stressful day,’ or ‘I’m under stress,’ etc. Stress is unique to each individual," she explained. "What evokes stress in one person could have no impact on their close friend or partner. What’s vital to know about stress is that it impacts pretty much every organ and system in your body. From longevity to weight, from emotional stability to energy levels, and from digestion to detoxification, all aspects of your physical and mental well-being are affected by your stress levels.”

So how exactly can stress disrupt your body? We broke down the five major ways below.

1. Causes an imbalance in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system

Or, in other words, your "fight or flight" system. Constant stress initiates this feeling which can provide you with adrenaline and alertness. Too much of this feeling, according to Dr. Petersen, can cause your body to "miss out on the ability to rest (sleep well), digest, and repair your body, the job of the parasympathetic nervous system." 

2. Prevents the production of sex hormones

Notice you haven't been in the mood lately? Too much stress can actually hurt your sex life. While external stress can initiate your "fight or flight" mode, "when stress is internal, and there is no imminent danger, the effects on your hormonal and emotional balance are profound. Your body will literally shunt away from making sex hormones that balance your mood and help regulate stress itself," Dr. Petersen explained.

3. It inhibits your melatonin production

If you're feeling rundown and tired, sleep is the best cure to help you feel more relaxed. Being stressed out can actually prevent this, though, by inhibiting your body’s ability to produce melatonin (the sleep hormone) and get a good night’s sleep.

4. Your body eats up more B vitamins and nutrients

It's hard not to automatically reach for sweets and carbs when you're stressed, but since stress depletes your body's natural nutrients, this is when you should focus on hydrating and adding healthy foods to your body. By eating "empty calories," you're actually aggravating stress more and can be more prone to weight gain.

5. It lowers your immune response

It's no coincidence if you find yourself sick after dealing with a large amount of stress. Dr. Petersen attributes this to "a weakening of your immune defenses that allow an opportunistic bacteria or virus to take hold of your body. Stress makes it harder for the body to ward off infection, making you more prone to illness in general."

So, if you're unsure how to deal with your stress, invest in a quality yoga mat and practice some meditation or treat yourself to a wellness retreat. Your mind and body will thank you.

Rylee Johnston

Rylee is a U.S. news writer who previously worked for woman&home and My Imperfect Life covering lifestyle, celebrity, and fashion news. Before joining woman&home and My Imperfect Life, Rylee studied journalism at Hofstra University where she explored her interests in world politics and magazine writing. From there, she dabbled in freelance writing covering fashion and beauty e-commerce for outlets such as the TODAY show, American Spa Magazine, First for Women, and Woman’s World.