sdeva via Getty Images

sdeva via Getty Images

The cumulative effects of chronic stress creep up on you slowly. Initially, you may be able to shrug off minor health issues and sleep difficulties and explain away decreased productivity and increased irritability. But eventually, the toll stress takes on your health adds up, and ultimately, it could take years off your life.

Chronic stress isn’t the only problem. Sometimes, a single event interrupts a normally peaceful life. A health scare, loss of a loved one, divorce, or unemployment are just a few of the life altering circumstances that can skyrocket stress levels overnight. Being ill-prepared and unequipped to deal with life’s inevitable challenges leaves us vulnerable to the dangerous effects of stress.

The Harmful Effects of Stress

Stress impacts almost every system in your body. Stress can cause the body to produce high levels of adrenaline (as well as other hormones) and in turn, heart rate and respiration increases. Glucose in the blood rises as the body prepares for the well-known “fight or flight” reaction.

The human body was never meant to live in chronic state of “fight or flight” because it can cause widespread damage. Potential health risks associated with stress range from heart disease and stroke to diabetes and obesity. A 1994 study published in Harvard Business Review estimates between 60 and 90 percent of all doctor visits are stress-related. Yet the vast majority of people say they’ve never even mentioned stress to their doctors.

Stress also takes a tangible effect on our mental health by shrinking our brains. A2012 study conducted by Yale found that stress caused by adverse life events reduced grey matter in the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is responsible for self-control and emotion regulation. Smaller brain volumes have been linked to increased mood disorders, like depression and anxiety, as well as increased risk taking behavior and substance abuse.

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