In 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA) released its Stressed in America survey. In the survey, 45 percent of Americans said that stress kept them up at least once in the past month. The reasons they gave were varied, including politically-induced stress, money, work, family, and more. But it all added up to one conclusion: America as a nation is having a stress crisis.
“The bottom line is that stress can have real health consequences,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., the APA’s chief executive officer, told TIME. Evans noted, in 2016, more people than ever before even became symptomatic from their stress, experiencing physical signs like headaches and stomachaches. “When stress becomes chronic, or stress levels exceed a person’s ability to cope, it is a concern.”
Your health isn’t the only thing that suffers if you’re stressed. Here are seven daily activities that become more difficult if you suffer from everyday stress.
Stress makes it hard to recognize danger
According to a study by New York University, suffering from stress diminishes a person’s ability to recognize danger like “a swerving car or an unexpected shift in a person’s behavior,” Psychology Today reported. “That delay in recognition may put us at risk of not responding appropriately to new dangers.”
In the study, researchers compared a group of Zen participants to another who had been put through a stressful ice bath and measured their cortisol and alpha-amylase levels and found the stressed group to be much slower to respond to various threatening situations. “It takes you longer to get there,” one of the study’s authors stated.
Stress makes it difficult to focus
According to Heidi Hanna, Ph.D., author of Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress, when you’re stressed all your body can think about is getting away from the stressful situation. “The brain’s response becomes all about survival,” Hanna told Reader’s Digest. “The fear response takes up all the energy of the brain for how to protect yourself.”
Timothy Wilens, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, additionally told Health that the stress in your mind “...competes with your cognitive centers—the areas in the brain that are responsible for quick, sharp thoughts—so being anxious or stressed drags focus down even further.”
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Stress makes it hard to say no to snacks
Long-term stress makes it difficult to make healthy decisions for your body. When we are stressed, Harvard Medical School explained, “The adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat.” Moreover, it added, because of this rush of hormones, people are more apt to reach for a sugary or fatty treat, rather than pick up an apple. “These foods really are "comfort" foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people's stress-induced craving for those foods.”
Stress makes you lose sleep
Guess what, that nasty cortisol not only affects your appetite but your sleep too. According to Reader’s Digest, when humans are stressed, they release cortisol, and if those levels don’t diminish by nighttime, our body believes we are still in fight or flight mode.
“When you are chronically stressed, it can be difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep during the night can cause moody and stressful mornings—and the cycle continues,” Aarti Gupta, PsyD, clinical director of anxiety and family therapy center TherapyNest, told Reader’s Digest.
Stress can cause physical illness
As explained above, stress can cause physical symptoms with what is known as “stress-related illness.” According to Healthline, if a person allows their body to stay in a prolonged stress state, it has no time to re-establish equilibrium. “...it becomes overworked and your immune system weakens, making you susceptible to sickness. Many essential bodily processes are disrupted, and your risk of health problems increases.” Common physical side effects include weight gain, heart disease, depression, and autoimmune diseases.
Stress can make you really, really thirsty
When your stressed your body’s adrenal glands have to work overtime as they excrete stress hormones into your body, according to HuffPost. This causes what is known as adrenal fatigue, which in turn can reduce specific compounds that regulate your body’s electrolyte and fluid levels. This can leave you with dry mouth and perceived dehydration. Drink a bit of water, but don’t overdo it as that can also lead to over-hydration.
If you find yourself suffering from any of these symptoms Evans noted to TIME, “It is important that people learn healthy ways to manage stress that may make them lower their stress over the long term and therefore reduce their risk for other health conditions. Those habits, the APA explained, can include getting the recommended eight hours of sleep, choosing healthier foods, working out and removing yourself from whatever situation is currently making you feel more stressed. Easier said than done, we know, but every little bit helps. And if you need a little more help, you could always listen to the most relaxing song in the world.