Stress becomes a daily part of our lives from the moment we take our first breath. It is a feeling of emotional or physical tension which can come from any event or thought that makes someone feel frustrated, upset, or nervous.
When stress is ignored, we put our bodies at risk for serious health risks. The more stress we battle, the harder it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Individuals under high stress often exercise less, experience poor sleep quality, eat a poor diet, and struggle to make sound decisions. And when we find ourselves mired in deep stress for an extended period of time, it can begin to take very serious tolls on our overall health. These issues can be long-lasting and may not even arise for years down the road.
So just how can various forms of stress impact your body in the long run? StudyFinds has published numerous pieces of research over the years documenting the harms from too much frustration. Here’s a look at five studies that demonstrate just how bad stress is and the ways in which it can worsen overall health.
A stressful career raises risk for Alzheimer’s diesease
If your job is always putting you in a bad mood, you’ll be doing your brain a favor if you take up a career that makes you happier. A new study concludes that having a stressful job may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists say that work stress damages an area of the brain triggered during emotional pressure. Known as the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis, it releases stress hormones, including cortisol. High levels have been linked to memory loss, and even shrinkage of gray matter. The study shows that stress fuels inflammation in the HPA, impairing clearance of rogue proteins known as beta amyloid and tau. They clump together in the brain, destroying neurons. Immune cells called microglia are unable to kill them.
Furthermore, genetic variations within these pathways can influence the way the brain’s immune system behaves leading to a dysfunctional response. In the brain, this leads to a chronic disruption of normal processes, increasing the risk of subsequent neurodegeneration and ultimately dementia.
READ MORE: Too much work stress could lead to Alzheimer’s disease, study warns
Financial stress tied to heart attacks
People with high financial stress are 13 times more likely to suffer a heart attack, while the odds are nearly six times greater for people dealing with work frustrations, a new study finds.
In the study, 212 participants were recruited, half of whom had suffered from a heart attack, also known as an acute myocardial infarction. Results were gathered on how depression, anxiety, and various other stressors — including ones of a personal, professional, and financial nature, affect them.
Results show that those who had no struggles with their finances were deemed as having no financial stress. Individuals who were coping, but needed some additional support had mild financial stress. Those who had an income, but were struggling to make ends meet were said to have moderate financial distress. And those who had no income and often struggled to meet basic needs were considered to be in significant financial distress.
While stress and depression were found to be closely linked to having a heart attack, money and work problems were substantial risk factors as well, the study reports.
READ MORE: Study: Stress from work, finances greatly increases risk of heart attack
Triggers genes to age faster
A new study reveals that stress literally makes people age faster at a genetic level. It shows that experiencing stress speeds up the chemical changes in a person’s DNA that naturally occur as they age.
In all, 444 people between the ages of 19 and 50, were examined in the study. They donated blood samples which the researchers analyzed using “GrimAge” as well as other biomarkers that measure a person’s health. GrimAge is the epigenetic clock that predicts how long someone will live than their actual age. The volunteers also completed a questionnaire which measured their levels of stress and how resilient they are to such mental strain.
Findings reveal that although stress makes people age faster, strengthening your emotion regulation and self-control can block out the genetic impact of stress. Continuous stress can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, addiction, mental health disorders, and obesity-related disorders like diabetes.
READ MORE: Stress makes your genes age faster, but learning to relax helps you live longer
Greater risk of missing threats, warning signs
It’s widely believed that when people are under stress, they pick up on every danger, both real and imagined. This is actually wrong. As it turns out, people have less flexibility to adjust to changing threats when they are preoccupied with a stressful situation, one study explains.
Researchers say that our ability to anticipate threats around us is necessary to survival. It is also just as vital to be able to adjust our responses when new threats come into our environment.
For the study, Pavlovian-type experiments were carried out to test threat responses to changing threats. Participants were asked to view certain images on a computer screen. They felt a mild electric wrist-shock while viewing some of the images (“threat cue”), but no shock with other images (“safe cue”). The next day, half of the participants were asked to put their arm in ice water for several minutes. This raised two stress hormones, alpha-amylase and cortisol, in the participants.
Results reveal that stressful stimuli was a factor in reducing the participants ability to adjust to changing threats. Participants in the stress group had lowered physiological responses to new threat cues, meaning they were not able to alter their perception of something formerly considered safe to currently being a danger.
READ MORE: Danger! Stress actually puts you at greater risk of missing threats, warning signs
Stress — just as bad as junk food?
Stress may contribute to poor health just as much as a poor diet, according to scientists. An experiment with a substantial number of eight-week-old mice, half of which were put on a high-fat diet. In a span of sixteen weeks the start of their diet regimen, all of the mice that were part of the study were exposed to conditions that brought about mild stress.
Interestingly, the excrement of male mice subjected to a high-fat diet showed that these rodents exhibited greater levels of anxiety, along with decreased activity due to stress. More surprisingly, female mice that were only put under stressful conditions exhibited a shift in the composition of their gut microbiota comparable to that of mice on a high-fat diet.
Results of the study suggest that a possible source of the gender discrepancy may be the difference gut microbiota responds to stress in males versus females.
READ MORE: Stress may be just as bad for your body as junk food
If you are battling stress and are considering making changes to your diet, daily routine, or other aspects of your life, it’s always recommended that you first speak to your doctor or a mental health expert.