The Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Body

The Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Body

Everyone deals with stress some of the time. One of the most popular times? The holidays. Gifts to buy, meals to cook, family drama to dredge up again. It can be a lot to handle. Most of us probably know the telltale symptoms of stress: muscle tension, headaches, sleeplessness, irritability. But it has some more surprising and insidious effects, too.

For example, did you know that there's a scientific link between stress and acne? Stress creates an inflammatory response, which can cause otherwise harmlessly clogged pores to turn red and trigger the production of pus, creating unsightly zits. This inflammatory response can also make you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses, according to a 2012 study in PNAS.

Chronic stress also wreaks havoc on your brain. Cortisol, the so-called "stress hormone," can actually reduce your brain's ability to access short-term memories. A 1998 study in the journal Nature found that half an hour after being stressed by an electric shock, rats forgot how to navigate a maze. A 2012 study in Biological Psychiatry showed that people who experience "cumulative adversity"—that is, repeated bad events over the long term—have less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for self-control, emotions, and even insulin regulation.

Plus, stress is just not sexy. All the stress hormones a body produces come at the expense of all-important sex hormones, like testosterone, estrogen, and those responsible for sperm production and ovulation. In women, that, plus the mental anguish of chronic stress, can lead to a drastic drop in their sex drive. For men, stress has effects on the blood vessels that can cause erectile dysfunction. But stress also does men another disservice: according to a 2012 study in the journal Nature Communications, men with a lower cortisol level were judged as more attractive by women. One more reason to take some "me" time. Looking for more reasons to take deep breaths during that Thanksgiving dinner? Watch the videos below.

How Stress Affects Your Body

Take a tour of the stressed-out human body.

01:30

Can Stress Actually Kill You?

Clearly, stress has some big health effects. But are they enough to kill you?

03:08

Key Facts In This Video

  • 1

    Humans have difficulty with blocking stress hormones and can become overwhelmed. (0:27)

  • 2

    Brain cells are heavily affected by stress, including a decrease in cell size. (1:37)

  • 3

    Stress can accelerate the shortening of telomeres, effectively speeding up the aging process. (1:59)

Emotion, Stress, And Health

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