5 Ways Stress Messes With Your Body (and How to Stress Less)

asian woman at her desk experiencing stress

Ever feel like you’re twice as stressed as the men in your life? You’re not hallucinating. Though no one is immune to it, women are more likely than men to report rising stress levels. What’s more: it impacts women’s health differently, too.

Here are just a few of the ways that stress messes with your body.

1. It causes you to gain weight.

When we’re stressed, our bodies release cortisol, which is a hormone that can lead to food cravings. That’s one reason we’re more likely to reach for sugary or fatty foods when we’re going through a tough time. But overeating isn’t the only problem. Stress can also lead to other unhealthy habits, like sleeplessness and increased alcohol consumption, both of which lead to weight gain.

2. It tanks your sex drive.

Sex probably sounds like the perfect stress reliever, but many women have issues becoming aroused when they’re under stress. What’s more, it can lead to feelings of distraction, making it a lot more difficult to get in the mood.

3. It causes heart troubles.

One of the most alarming ways that stress messes with our bodies is how it impacts our heart health. The effects of chronic stress can lead to serious cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and risk for stroke and heart attack.

4. It increases depression and anxiety.

Mood changes can hit hard during perimenopause, and stress just makes it worse. Studies show that women experiencing chronic stress are more likely to feel depressed. And it’s no secret that stress and anxiety go hand in hand.

5. It brings on headaches and body aches.

Cortisol — that fun hormone that can cause overeating — can also cause vascular changes that lead to tension headaches and migraines. Since we often tense our muscles when we’re stressed, body aches and pains are also common among those experiencing stress.

How to stress less

Chronic stress can have serious consequences on your health, but there are a few things you can do to reduce the stress in your life.

Keep a journal: Track your biggest stressors, feelings, and the ways you manage those things. The goal is to identify patterns so you can develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Exercise: Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise every day. Moving your body — particularly if you do it in nature — can work wonders when it comes to improving your mood.

Read more about exercise after 40.

Meditate: Meditation can reduce anxiety, help you sleep, and improve your overall health. All you need is a few minutes and quiet place to be on your way to present-moment peace.

Read more about meditation.

Log off: People who are connected to email and social media 24/7 are more likely to be stressed. No, shocker. Less scrolling means more time for healthy habits like exercise or meditation.

Get more sleep: Yes, it can feel nearly impossible when you’re stressed. To better prioritize a good night’s rest, begin your bedtime routine an hour before lights out and wind down with a relaxing activity like reading or meditation. Also: no screens during your bedtime routine.

Read more about getting good sleep.

Talk to your doctor: If you’re overwhelmed, talk to your doctor about options for managing stress — before it takes a toll on your health.

Photo: Ryan King 999

Kristen Dunleavy
About the author
Kristen is a Brooklyn-based writer and marketing professional who loves to run.

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