You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: The effects of stress can harm both your mind and your body. Not only can tension affect your mood and mental health, but experts and research also link it to major health concerns like heart disease, insulin resistance and chronic inflammatory conditions.
“Stress is not something that is all in your mind. It’s a set of objective, measurable events that take place in body and brain, a complex physiological process,” says Kyle Davies, psychologist and author of The Intelligent Body. “The body’s stress response is exactly the same regardless of whether the ‘trigger’ is a physical injury (such as a car accident), an illness (like a virus) or a blockage of emotion.”
“We are now beginning to see that emotional stress contributes to a massive range of social, economic and health problems,” Davies continues. “Emotional stress plays a part in almost everything from mental health problems like anxiety and depression to a huge array of chronic physical problems.”
Considering all the health effects of stress, the question is: Do you have it on your wellbeing-boosting priority list? To convince you take care of it stat, we’ve listed five sneaky ways stress can mess with you both physically and mentally. Read on, then start your de-stress journey with expert-approved tips and meditation apps that make calming down a little more doable.
5 Surprising Effects of Stress on Your Well-Being
1. Poor Gut Health
Think it’s just greasy burgers and milkshakes that can wreak havoc on your tummy? It turns out stress can be just as bad for your belly as an unhealthy diet.
New research from Brigham Young University shows that when female rats were exposed to stress, their gut microbiome — the trillions of bacteria that live in the digestive tract and influence everything from digestion to immunity to sleep quality to brain health — changed to resemble the digestive tracts of mice who ate a high-fat diet. In other words, stress can make your microbiome appear like you just downed a load of french fries even when you didn’t. Yikes. While more scientists call for more research to understand this link, they think that these changes in the gut may be part of the puzzle that links stress, mood disorders and obesity.
2. Slower Workout Recovery
“You can be doing all the right things training-wise, but if you’re not managing stress properly or getting proper rest, it affects the body’s ability to bounce back,” says Angie Fifer, certified mental performance consultant and Association for Applied Sport Psychology executive board member. Translation: Instead of reaping a workout’s rewards — like an energy and mood boost, as well as muscle gain — you could end up feeling more fatigued and sluggish and curbing results.
3. Trouble Sleeping
Speaking of fatigue, there’s nothing worse than trying to get a good night’s rest when you have a lot on your mind. According to W. Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Sleep Solution, stress tinkers with our zzz’s by sacrificing deep sleep for more light sleep. This leads to more frequent (and longer) awakenings in the middle of the night. So in the morning, you end up feeling tired, rather than refreshed.
Stress also tends to hinder our perception of sleep duration. “Think about that one for a bit…stress makes us think we have gotten far less sleep than we actually have. In some cases, it can make an individual who has slept 6 hours feel like he or she got no sleep,” he says. This can then lead to feeling even more stressed. Talk about a bad sleep cycle.
4. Mouth Problems
Canker sores, bleeding gums, sensitive teeth — yes, stress can bring on all of these issues. According to a study in the International Dental Journal, people who reported oral health problems, such as sensitivity and bleeding, had higher work stress scores compared to those who didn’t. In another study published in the Annals of Periodontology, people who experienced higher levels of financial stress and poor stress coping skills had higher levels of periodontal (or gum) disease. The good news: Those with high money-related stress, but good coping skills had the same incidence of gum disease as people under low stress.
5. A Cranky Jaw
Do you ever clench your jaw or facial muscles when you feel tense? Not only can this lead to unwanted wrinkles, it can cause your jaw to ache, click or lock. When you tense the muscles around your face and jaw or grind your teeth, you put extra pressure on the joint, which can lead to pain. In fact, researchers have found that stress, anxiety and depression may contribute to symptoms of temporomandibular disorders aka TMD.