7 things that happen to you when you’re under stress

Whether you’re worried about a big bill payment, managing a new work from home routine or anxious about the current state of the world, stress is omnipresent right now. While stress—or the fight or flight response—can protect you from danger or making poor decisions, chronic stress can affect the body in more ways than one.

“Stress is supposed to save us and make us think of out the box as it’s a survival technique. But what’s not helpful to us in any way is chronic stress,” confirms Nikhil Kapur, co-founder, Atmantan Wellness Centre. “The stress response is a physiological reaction your body initiates when it feels unsafe. Stress is our survival technique. Your body doesn’t differentiate between being late, overwhelmed or running from an attack, it just knows there’s trouble,” states Renee Grandi, clinical nutritionist and naturopath, Chiva Som International Health Resort.

1) You’ll find yourself getting sick more often

The pituitary gland regulates all the hormonal glands in the body. “When we sense a threat, the pituitary will signal the adrenal glands to pump out cortisol. This also pumps up the blood supply, increases the heart rate and improves the energy supply. The stress hormone isn’t actually the culprit, it’s the failure to turn this switch on and off that is,” says Kapur. Since this allostatic load is constant, it can cause actual wear and tear in the body, reducing its ability to fight infection when it does attack as the resources are already stressed. Plus, the production of cortisol reduces the disease-fighting white blood cells, proving the connection between stress and a weakened stress response.

2) You’ll find it hard to balance your mood

“When you are stressed over and over for a long period of time, you may start behaving differently,” shares Arouba Kabir, a Gurgaon-based mental health therapist. “You may become withdrawn, indecisive or inflexible. You may not be able to sleep properly. You may be irritable or tearful.”

3) You can struggle with regular tasks

“Chronic stress has an effect on brain function and can actually shrink the size of your hippocampus,” says Dr Kapur, which suggests why you can’t focus on a task at hand when you’re overwhelmed or anxious. This can affect concentration, memory and can cause brain fog.

4) You might even find it harder to deal with pain

Studies show that when people are stressed, their tolerance to pain decreases. Chronic pain might even spike or get worse during these times. Since cortisol is flowing in full force, prostaglandins, which are the hormones that help dull pain are overshadowed.

5) Your skin will be sensitive and acne-prone

Wonder why you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re stressed? You can blame the gut-brain axis, which is very sensitive to emotion. “We know that the gut, the brain, and the skin are intimately connected. When the microbiome in the gut is disrupted, it promotes inflammation that affects the entire body, including the brain, and the skin. It results in poor wound healing, a disrupted skin barrier and this ultimately translates to dryness, irritation, and worsening of inflammatory skin conditions,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr Joshua Zeichner. And the stress-induced influx of acne? “The same hormone that stimulates cortisol production also binds to oil glands promoting oil production and acne.”

6) Your hair may start to grey or fall out

Dr Zeichner shares how it is well documented that stressful physical or emotional experiences can lead to hair thinning a few months later. “Hairs are shifted into a resting phase all at the same time, leading to rapid shedding. This is a condition known as telogen effluvium,” he adds. When it comes to premature greying of the hair, he warns that it is a poorly understood subject, but may have to do with free radical damage that increases when you are under duress.

7) Your digestive system may feel out of whack

“For some people, stress may produce symptoms like acidity and bloating,” shares Dr Shailendra Chaubey, medical director at Vedary. “For some, it can lead to excessive hunger and the need to binge-eat,” he says. This explains why you suffer spasms or cramps—the enteric nervous system (which stimulates the gut-brain axis) is working on overdrive.

The article was first published in Vogue


  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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