Life moves fast these days. Work, school, family, extracurriculars—it's no wonder that almost 20 percent of Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder.
Now, stress isn't always bad. In many circumstances, it improves your performance, and in high-stakes situations can even save your life. Your body's response to danger is to release a chemical called cortisol, which has many beneficial effects in dangerous situations—in the short-term.
Most of our stresses in the current age have nothing to do with handling predators or hunting food—the kinds of events that our stress response is good for. Those same responses that prepare us for action instead hurt us, because that stress is not meant to be maintained over time. When life feels non-stop, and you're running at high levels of stress on a regular basis, you need to take measures to take care of your mind and body. Here are some of the major reasons not to ignore signs of stress and anxiety.
Stress can lead to more—and worse—stress.
What begins as stress about work or school can quickly spiral into even more serious mental health disorders. Though it's all right to occasionally feel stress about big life events or situations, ignoring them can lead to ongoing anxiety disorders. This will mean that you aren't just stressed about the stressful things, you may begin to feel constant anxiety over everyday life, affecting your relationships, work, self-image, coping with anxiety attacks, and more.
When stressful life events occur, it's important not to ignore them, and to seek support or find ways to manage that stress before it turns into something worse.
Stress weakens your immune system.
Another of the many reasons not to ignore signs of stress and anxiety is that it puts you at a greater risk for getting sick, and makes it harder to recover from illnesses or injuries.
Many people think that they simply cannot take a break in their stressful lives. They fear that taking any time off, or relaxing for a moment, will hurt their job, their relationships, their grades, etc. For busy, hard-working people, juggling life, work, and family can take an incredible amount of time and effort.
Ignoring stress and working at that kind of non-stop pace can actually make things a lot worse, because when you're that busy, you don't want to be getting sick as well.
That's why it's important not to ignore the signs of stress and anxiety, and attempt to power through difficult periods without help and relaxation. The high levels of cortisol released throughout the body during times of stress are meant to redirect your immune system's resources to face immediate danger; but when stress and anxiety are ongoing, that means that your immune system is weaker in the face of everyday germs and viruses.
Anxiety disrupts your sleep.
It stands to reason that continuous stress and anxiety would affect your sleep—after all, a huge part of the stress response is getting your nervous system ready for action.
Unmanaged stress can cause a lot of sleep problems, including insomnia. The rambling thoughts of an insomniac can lead your life into a vicious cycle of sleep disruption after sleep disruption, which will undoubtedly cause and exacerbate stress and the side effects of stress.
Anxiety is linked to heart disease.
If you're young and otherwise healthy, short-term stress won't give you a heart attack. Chronic stress and anxiety, on the other hand, have been shown to be correlated with heart disease and even heart-related fatalities.
This correlation may also be significantly related to the ways in which people manage their stress, which is another reason not to ignore signs of stress and anxiety. By being aware and accepting of your stress, you can develop healthy coping mechanisms, rather than resorting to many of the health-damaging behaviors that are often associated with high-stress lives, like smoking and drinking.
Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and diabetes.
Most of your body's responses to stress are made possible by the release of cortisol. In the heat of the moment, this cortisol essentially tells your body to release more glucose into your bloodstream, which your muscles can use as energy in a fight-or-flight situation. It also tells your body not to re-absorb this glucose. Again, this is a great response for the body to have—in the short-term.
When you ignore your stress and anxiety, this process is ongoing. As your body produces more and more glucose, it can't re-absorb it, putting you at a much greater risk for diabetes and other related health problems.
Stress can damage your digestive system.
Everyone experiences stress sometimes, and you can see, even in the short-term, the effect that can have on your digestive system—it can be hard to eat, or eating might make you feel sick. That's because another of your body's stress responses is to shut down systems that aren't immediately necessary to face danger—including the digestive system.
This is another of the many reasons not to ignore signs of stress and anxiety—your mind and body need proper fuel to function. Even if you are able to eat healthy meals under stress, your body may not be able to absorb the nutrients properly.
Stress causes ulcers.
In addition to making it difficult to eat and digest, research indicates that chronic stress and anxiety may cause stomach ulcers, which are painful sores that occur within the digestive system. Though ulcers are usually manageable, this risk is still one of the most concerning reasons not to ignore signs of stress and anxiety, as untreated ulcers can cause internal bleeding, which in turn can lead to death.
Anxiety can cause infertility.
Studies have shown that women who had trouble conceiving were much more likely to do so when they decreased their stress levels. Although we don't know exactly how this process works, it likely has to do with the body's tendency to shut down systems that aren't immediately necessary.
For women with high stress and anxiety, even if you aren't trying to start a family, these are good reasons not to ignore signs of stress and anxiety. When stress affects your reproductive system in this way, it can also cause missed or irregular periods and hormonal imbalances.
Stress decreases your libido.
One of the most often-noted physical symptoms of a stress or anxiety disorder is decreased libido. This is likely due to a combination of factors, including the high levels of cortisol and adrenaline, as well as the common link between anxiety and depression.
Anxiety can lead to depression.
Stress and anxiety are bad enough. Ignoring the symptoms and attempting to handle chronically high stress on your own can lead to more, and worse, mental health issues. In fact, there is massive overlap between people with anxiety disorders and people with depression. These issues can cause further issues, like eating disorders, impulse control problems, even issues handling anger and other emotions.
These reasons not to ignore signs of stress and anxiety can lead to a healthier, happier life in the long run. Anxiety takes a toll on you, and it is up to you if you will allow it. Healthy coping mechanisms and support from others can be the difference between long-term physical problems, some even fatal ones, and a well-balanced life.