10 Invisible Things Stress is Doing To Your Body Right Now
What we think and feel, and how long we think it or feel it, determines our health. The science is strong, and yet so often stress is considered an amorphous gray area, something we can’t put our finger on or measure, and so it gets dismissed as not being “real.”
In the not-very-distant future, I believe wearable sensors will be able to detect shifts in stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in real time. You will be able to place an invisible sticker on your wrist, open an app on your phone, and see how the cheeseburger you just ate, or the conversation you had yesterday, impacts your stress response. When that happens, the gray area will become very black and white.
Even when we have that technology however, connecting the dots between knowing your hormone levels and changing your behavior will come down to understanding how those hormones impact your body and your life.
Here are 10 concrete ways stress is possibly the most dangerous toxin your body faces every day.
1. Stress changes gene expression.
The chemicals your body produces when you are under stress turn on or off of genes that change everything from how much fat you store, to how well your immune system works, to how fast you age, to whether or not you will develop cancer.
2. Early life events determine your set point for stress.
Research shows that even very early childhood events “set” your CRH, or corticotropin releasing hormone, at a high or low level. CRH is like the foot on the gas turning on your adrenals, and therefore your stress levels.
3. Stress causes brain damage.
High levels of stress hormones damage critical parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, the area responsible for memory. One reason people experience “adrenal burnout” after long term chronic stress, is because the brain, in order to save itself, turns off the adrenals.
4. Stress shuts down the immune system and increases inflammation.
From slowing wound healing, to diminishing the protective effects of vaccines, to increasing your susceptibility to infections, stress is the ultimate immune-modulator. Stress can also reactivate latent infections — people who get cold sores know this from experience.
5. Chronic stress damages the energy powerhouses of your body, your mitochondria.
These energy factories produce ATP, the currency through which all cells and organs in your body do their work. The good news is this damage is reversible over time, as stress goes away.