5 Ways Work Stress is Hurting Your Body

July 22, 2016

You already know stress doesn’t feel good and can make you feel mentally exhausted. However, it’s more than just a mental strain — it can be a physical one, too. In fact, it’s estimated that anywhere between 75 to 90 percent of doctor visits are due to stress-related ailments. In addition, about 43 percent of adults experience some kind of health related problems from high stress levels.

What are the causes of your stress? It’s likely that work makes it to the top of your list, as it does with the majority of adults. Everything from changing your line of work to changing your work responsibilities can be the culprit. And while stress is mostly an emotional pain, it largely impacts the way we work and perform on the job.

If you’re wondering whether your job is causing you stress, read on to see five of the many ways stress can manifest itself physically. And, if you find your own symptoms on the list, it might be time to find a way for you to fight stress and feel better all around:

1- Increased Cravings for Unhealthy Foods

When you are stressed, you probably won’t find yourself craving vegetables. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, a hormone that improves your fight-or-flight instinct in a stressful situation. Since something like an impending deadline doesn’t actually mean putting up you dukes or hitting the dusty trail to flee from an enemy, that cortisol manifests itself in a number of ways —and one very common way is cravings for fat and sugar.

If you’re feeling increasing delight at the thought of eating a whole pie, it could be completely stress related — you’re probably not actually hungry enough to eat that entire pie.

2- A Spike in Cholesterol

Doctors aren’t sure why, but it seems as though stress plays a factor in the body’s retention of cholesterol. In a British study, those with stronger emotional reactions to stress had immediate and more notable elevation in cholesterol levels. Three years later, researchers checked back in with the study’s subjects to find those with stronger cholesterol responses had higher levels of cholesterol still. Your cholesterol and your heart health could suffer at the hands of stress.

3- Difficulty Remembering

The stress hormone cortisol is to blame for a loss of memory at any time of stress. It gets in the way of your brain recording new memories. Because cortisol also blocks neurotransmitters that help different parts of your brain to communicate, it can be difficult to remember old memories, too. Your brain knows you need to focus on a stressful task, so it blocks off all access to the memories you don’t need. Regardless of the science, it’s a frustrating side effect.

4- Aching Muscles 

Working on your feet isn’t the only thing that’s causing your body to ache. When you’re stressed, your muscles tense up — this helps them get ready in case they need to initiate that fight-or-flight response. If you get stressed a lot, though, the constant tensing up of your muscles can cause them to ache.

Additionally, if you have a job that makes you more susceptible to workplace injuries as it is, you need to be extra aware of your stress levels so you don’t get hurt on the job — and make yourself even more stressed out. This applies to anyone in the medical field or working a job that requires you to be physically active throughout the day. Physical pain can lead to long-term stress injuries that are more difficult to get rid. Be aware of the strain you are putting on your body as well as smart about the way you are using it. If you do those things, you should be able to prevent this cause of stress relatively early on.

5- More Illness

Short-term stress can be a good thing as far as your immune system is concerned. If you’re intermittently stressed, your body sees it as a sign to bolster your immune system in order to block whatever is causing you duress.

Over time, though, an overly inflamed immune system doesn’t respond as well to actual threats. This means your immune system won’t recognize actual threats as threats, allowing viral illnesses right past its barriers. Watch out for a winter full of colds and flus if your stress is consistently out of check.

The Solution

The first step is to recognize that you are stressing out and figure out the best way, for you, to overcome it. If you want to prevent stress from deterring you from performing to your best ability within your career, you have to realize when it is holding you back.

Clearly, stress is more than just a feeling, especially when it comes to your health. Find time to do something to de-stress yourself — exercise, stretch, journal spend time with a friend to name a few — and find that time regularly. As your stress levels subside and your body begins to repair itself, you’ll be glad you did.  

Cori Keating is a health and wellness writer and lover. She enjoys reading, running, and doing yoga. Find her writing for her blog or doing research in the nearest coffee shop.

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