Health And Wellness

What Happens To Your Body When You Ignore Stress For Too Long

Photo: vmaslova / Shutterstock
stressed woman

We might think that stress is just an inevitable part of working and living in the modern day, but it can be harmful if not properly managed.

Stress is common but it should not go ignored. Being stressed is our body's way of letting us know that if we don't stop soon, then we're going to burn out. It's a warning sign that shouldn't be ignored.

If you're stressing about small things like your homework or whether Josh is gonna give you a look or not, then don't sweat it that much. These are things that, on a bigger scale, aren't going to kill you. 

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First, it's important to understand that stress is our body's natural response to threats.

"This is often called 'fight, flight, or freeze,'" Dr. Sherry Benton, psychologist and founder and chief science officer of online therapy service TAO Connect. "Under normal circumstances, we return to normal functioning after a short burst of action. However, when stress is constant and persists over long periods of time, all kinds of bad things can happen."

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What exactly are these "bad things?" First off, adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones) can rev up your heart — but long-term stress can be especially dangerous as ongoing, high cortisol levels can lead to the following issues:

  • Heartburn
  • Insomnia
  • Heart disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach problems
  • Infertility
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Lost libido
  • Change in menstruation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

According to Dr. Benton, the longer stress symptoms go unmanaged, the worse the consequences are on your health.

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Chronic stress that lasts even a week or more may result in anxiety, insomnia, and digestive problems.

If it persists for longer periods of time, more serious mental and physical health concerns, such as depression and heart disease, can develop. "Managing stress is essential to long-term health," she said.

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Best Ways to Manage Stress

1. Mindfulness meditation

Dr. Benton shared that researchers are finding this method to be highly effective in reducing symptoms of stress. As little as a few minutes per day has proven to make people feel more energized and refreshed.

2. Exercise

Aerobic exercise, in particular, has proven to be a great stress reducer. If you haven't been exercising, start small with 10- or 20-minute walks, but try to get outside as much as possible. "There is some research that has found that exercising outside and in nature is more effective for mental health and cognitive functioning than exercising in a gym," Dr. Benton said.

3. Have fun

It's essential to laugh, experience new things, and find time to spend time with those you love. All these things have the ability to stimulate your brain and nervous system and counteract the fight, flight, or freeze response, and ultimately destress you.

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Nicole Yi is a former associate editor for PopSugar. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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This article was originally published at PopSugar. Reprinted with permission from the author.