There’s a reason that stress feels like a bad cold. Stress has real, physical and psychological effects on your body, according to a new TED-Ed video posted by A Plus. The video, which TED-Ed posted to YouTube, shows why stress “is more than just an emotion.” Stress actually classifies more as a bodily response, because often times it can help you perform better in a situation. Unfortunately, when you become stressed too often, your bodily response becomes much less positive, according to the video. Also, knowing the bodily effects of stress might stress you out even more, so I have included cute puppy and kitten images to help balance the stress caused by reading about stress.
1. Too Much Stress Can Cause Hypertension
When you’re stressed, your adrenal gland releases cortisol, epinephrine—which the video said we know more commonly as adrenaline—and norepinephrine. This adrenaline raises your blood pressure and your heart rate, which can cause hypertension. Having hypertension too often can lead to heart failure, heart attack, stroke or kidney failure, among other problems, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Yes, it’s scary. But, look, puppies!
2. Hypertension Can Lead To Atherosclerosis
The TED-Ed video said that this huge release of cortisol when you’re stressed can cause the inner lining of blood vessels to malfunction and hold back blood from moving freely, which is the beginning of a disease called atherosclerosis, a medical term for when cholesterol plaque builds up in your arteries. This build up combined with high blood pressure increases your chance of stroke or heart attack greatly. (I’m not trying to stress you out. I’m just the messenger.)
3. Stress Can Give You Irritable Bowel Syndrome
When you’re stressed, your brain will activate something called your autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary actions your body takes like your heartbeat and the widening of your blood vessels, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Your brain will then send signals through your autonomic nervous system to your enteric nervous system, which is like the nervous system for your gut and digestive tract, according to the TED-Ed video.
This crazy chatter going on between your brain and your digestive tract is what can cause you to feel butterflies when you’re nervous or upset, so, given the right amount of stress, that same butterfly feeling can actually disturb the normal functioning of your digestive tract, which can lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Stress can also affect what kinds of bacteria your stomach produces and where it is placed, which can make your stomach more sensitive to certain foods, give you heartburn more often, and affect your health, generally, according to the video. Don’t freak out, there are kittens.
3. Stress Can Make You Gain Weight
Again, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but stress can definitely make you gain weight. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol. According to Today’s Dietitian, your body will then prepare your flight-or-fight response by releasing a lot of glucose, or sugar, to give you energy. When your body is using that, it also produces insulin, to be sure that the glucose isn’t stored for too long.
A constant buildup of cortisol and then insulin can deprive your cells of glucose, which makes you feel like you need energy, or food. And not just any food—carbohydrates and other heavy foods with lots of energy. TED-Ed said these are the foods we usually call comfort foods.
This list is making me stressed. Thank goodness there’s another kitten, and I’m heading to the kitchen for some bread.
4. That Deep Belly Fat Can Lead To Other Health Issues
All those carbs can add up over time, and when they do, they can contribute to weight gain in the form of what the TED-Ed video calls “deep belly fat.” The video said that this belly fat “is an organ” (Sorry, what?) that releases something called cytokines, which are hormones and chemicals that specifically affect your immune system. Lots of cytokines can make you more susceptible to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes, and heart disease.
Chronic stress can affect your body’s overall ability to defend itself from diseases and infection after injuries.
5. Stress Can Shorten Your Telomeres
Telomeres are a protective covering that sits on the end of DNA strands. A number of studies have found that chronic stress can shorten telomeres over time, which can lead your cells to age faster, according to an American Psychological Association Q&A with Dr. Elissa Epel. When cells age, they bring all the signs of aging with them, and increased risks for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, according to the APA.
If all of those reasons weren’t enough to convince you to moderate the amount of stress in your life, then here’s a few more things that stress can cause, according to the TED-Ed video: acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, headaches, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and irritability.
The video does offer a pretty stellar and uplifting tip about stress: just learn how to react to stress properly. If you see stress as something momentary that will pass and that you can overcome, then you’re less likely to react in a way that will upset your body and all those confusing nervous systems. That’s why the whole “take some deep breaths” thing is actually a good idea.
When you’re stressed, take a step back before you overreact. Just remind yourself that you can get through it and that you are enough.