Can stress make you sick?
The daily stress of a heavy work load, long commute, raising a family and trying to make ends meet can take a negative toll on your body without you even realizing it.
Negative stress can affect you mentally, physically and emotionally. If you are experiencing sleepless nights, weight gain or frequent colds, stress may be to blame.
Dr. Kiran Bojedla, a family and sports medicine physician with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., says everyone experiences different levels of stress at times throughout their life. However, long periods of it can leave the body in a constant state of stress, with elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels.
“When you let stress get the best of you, it can weaken the immune system and cause a domino effect on other health issues,” he says. “Over time, chronic stress can contribute to worsening heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disorders and gastrointestinal problems.”
Learn more about how chronic stress can wreak havoc on your body below.
Headaches: Stress is a common trigger for tension-type headaches and migraines. Tension headaches, also called stress headaches, involve both sides of the head and focus in the forehead and back of the neck.
Digestive disorders: About 95% of the body’s serotonin, the hormone that can make you feel happy, is found in the digestive system. This means that stress can affect the digestive system from bloating, nausea, acid reflux, diarrhea and constipation.
Insomnia: Stress can cause hyperarousal, which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness. Stress can make it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep. It can also affect quality of sleep.
Weight gain or loss: Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which impairs the body’s ability to process blood sugar and changes the way it metabolizes fat, protein and carbs.
Skin issues: Stress can cause the sebaceous glands to produce more oil, leading to clogged pores and pimples. It can also produce cold sores, eczema and psoriasis flare-ups.
Hives: Oftentimes, hives are an allergic reaction to certain foods, fabrics or chemicals. But other times, these red, itchy welts can appear on the surface can be triggered by stress.
Dr. Bojedla says the key to tackling these health issues is to disrupt the cycle of stress and learn how to react to it in a healthy way.
“While we can’t eliminate worry and stress 100% of the time, it’s important to learn how to better manage it. Take time for yourself every day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, to do something that you enjoy: listening to music or a podcast, reading, going for a walk or spending time with friends and family,” he says.
Other tips include eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
“Sometimes, severe stress is made worse or even caused by underlying untreated depression or anxiety. If these strategies aren’t making a dent in your stress, or if it starts to interfere with your day-to-day functioning, it may be time to talk to a medical professional. We have access to several resources at our office, including behavioral counselors, medication and other coping strategies,” Dr. Bojedla says.
About the Author
Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.