We all know the familiar signs of stress including the clenched jaw, the furrowed brow or the intense stare. Most of us do our best work when we are under pressure. Adrenaline and other stress hormones give us the kick start we need to meet deadlines, but when stress runs too hot for too long, our look changes. People who are stressed for years don't merely appear driven or focused. They look beaten down.
In large doses, stress can wear down the body and speed up the clock on aging.
The wear and tear of stress can show up in every part of the body including individual cells, bones and skin. Here are just a few ways that stress can wear down the body.
• Grinding teeth. It is not unusual for people to unintentionally take out their stress on their teeth. Teeth grinding is a natural extension of the clenched jaw that most people have in times of stress.
• Inflammation. Many people are literally inflamed with stress. In small doses, that's OK, but when people are too stressed out for too long, inflammation can get out of control, setting the stage for a long list of potential problems, including pain, heart disease and a weakened immune system.
• Thinning hair. Most people dealing with hair loss can put the bulk of the blame on their genes. But stress can also be a contributing factor.
• Thinning bones. One of the serious side effects of cortisol is that it keeps bones from absorbing calcium.
• Weight gain. Recent studies have found that stress can upset the balance of hormones that help control appetite. But it's no secret that stressed people often turn to food for comfort. Studies have shown that women with the most stressful lives also had the biggest problems with overeating.
So, what can we do about the stress in our lives? Lifestyle changes including moderate exercise may be one of the most beneficial actions we can take. Exercise and healthy eating may not make the stress in our lives go away, but it can help us deal with the stress and not allow it to cause pre-mature aging. More importantly, it may help reduce our risk of serious health issues. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain, so make a plan to manage the stress in your life. Start today!
Judy Schmoeger, a longtime resident of Lee’s Summit, is owner and general manager of Anytime Fitness.