How Does Stress Make Us Sick?
Stress is something that we encounter daily. Whether it’s worrying about what people might think about a specific situation to an upcoming deadline for work or school, it can cause unwanted physical symptoms if left uncontrolled.
About one-third of people in high-stress situations experience adverse impacts to their physical or mental health.
When stress levels remain high, the cortisol levels in the body stay elevated. Having a little bit helps keep people on their toes, find solutions to problems, or make positive health choices.
If stress affects your ability to do what you need or want to do, it can create problems that you might not even know are happening.
What Happens When Cortisol Levels Don’t Normalize?
Cortisol is a hormone that creates several physiological reactions. It helps your body prepare to defend itself from a physical threat or run away from it.
You might notice several physical responses that develop during a high-stress situation. Cortisol can cause rapid breathing, an increased heart rate, headaches, dizziness, muscle tension, and nausea. []
These responses happen because the hormone signals the body to release glucose. That gives your muscles the fuel needed to fight or run.
Modern stressors don’t require physical responses, but the body’s reaction to cortisol remains the same. Since it stops insulin production and causes arterial narrowing, prolonged high levels can cause physical illnesses to develop.
What Are the Symptoms of Uncontrolled Stress?
When uncontrolled stress creates persistently high cortisol levels, each person reacts differently to the situation. You might see any or all of the following symptoms develop.
- Itchy, red hives that appear anywhere on the skin.
- Immune system weakening that causes more sensitivity to fragrances and detergents.
- Weight fluctuations, including unintended gains and losses.
- More headaches or migraine days that reduce productivity.
- Gastrointestinal issues, including frequent heartburn.
If it always seems like you have a cold, a sinus infection, or get sick more often than others, stress could be the trigger. For some people, chronic cortisol increases can make it harder to concentrate or focus, which results in memory problems.
Stress can even cause acne breakouts since it can trigger hormonal imbalances.
What Are the Best Ways to Control Stress?
Coping with stressful situations is the best way to prevent someone from feeling sick. Even if things feel out of control, several strategies that don’t involve medication can help you start the process of normalizing your hormones. []
The best strategy to cope with stress is to exercise daily. Your activities will help to clear your mind while encouraging better health. Try to include some time for meditation, or at least some deep breathing, to promote calmness.
Eating a balanced diet, including limits on sugar and caffeine, can also help.
If you have time for a hobby, considering picking up a creative skill or activity. Drawing, writing, cooking, and painting can all help keep stress levels low.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel it is needed. Whether it’s from your support network or a medical provider, stress doesn’t need to be in control of your life!