Finals are just around the corner (or begun!) and this is an important time in many students’ lives. Many of us are ready to be done for the spring and this is the time we need to push through. However, exam time does bring about many emotions and another big thing called “stress”.
Everyone stresses about different things in life. Unfortunately, life continues and through this journey, we encounter obstacles and hurdles. These can lead to stress. In fact, chronic stress is a gateway to numerous other health problems. In this article, I highlight some of the issues that stress can cause, and this may just stress you out a bit more! But it’s important to remember that there are great tools out there available to help you manage stress and deal with situations in a healthier and effective way.
Here’s what stress can do to you:
1. Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Stress increases cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that has a relationship with another hormone called insulin. Insulin is used to control our blood sugar levels by allowing cells to take up glucose for energy and metabolism. With the inability to take up glucose, blood sugar levels rise and can lead to weight gain. When cortisol levels in the blood are high (i.e when we are under chronic stress) the cells of our body become insulin resistant and cannot take up the glucose we provide. This leads to weight gain and can also potentially lead to Type 2 Diabetes! https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cortisol-and-weight-gain
2. Decreased Energy and Sleepiness
Stress triggers the sympathetic nervous system. This is the “fight or flight” response. Basically, during this response, the body releases large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. By doing so, the body is able to elevate our heart rates and we consume more oxygen in turn to excite the muscles. In caveman days, this would be a great response because it would prepare us to fight and run away from potential threats (which can cause stress!). However, this response is not so helpful in our modern lifestyles. Having high levels of cortisol circulating in our blood for long periods of time takes the energy that could be utilized elsewhere. Additionally, stress lowers neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Also known as the “happy hormones”. The low levels of dopamine and serotonin can lead to depression and a low mood, causing us to stay in a demotivated state which can also trick us into sleeping more and overall feeling fatigued through the day. https://www.physiochirowellness.ca/stress-can-lower-energy-levels/
3. Decreased Immunity
Chronic stress can depress our immune system which normally functions to fight off infections. Cortisol, as mentioned before, is elevated during stress. When this hormone continues to be released into the bloodstream it can trigger inflammation. Inflammation leads to many various cytokines such as TNF-alpha and interleukins. These pro-inflammatory cells are generally good because inflammation is a way our body works to heal itself. However, in chronic conditions, excess of these cytokines can actually cause negative effects. Over time, chronic inflammation can trigger the immune system to attack healthy tissue! Cortisol can also lower the number of lymphocytes (B-cells and T-cells). These cells are crucial to help fight off infections by invading foreign cells and producing antibodies to build immunity. This makes it more likely for individuals to catch colds and flu! https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
Something we may all struggle with from time to time is acne, and unfortunately, it gets worse with stress. Elevated levels of cortisol trigger the sebaceous glands in the skin to produce more oil. This can mix with dead skin cells to cause inflammation and breakouts! https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/10-weird-ways-your-body-reacts-stress
All in all, these are just a few of the negative impacts of stress, and issues like obesity, decreased energy, and immunity can further cause a plethora of other health problems that I haven’t mentioned. Stress doesn’t just put us in a bad mood; it can also manifest into a much larger problem. For this reason, it is crucial that we take care of our mental health and find ways and strategies to destress.