How Chronic Stress Harms Your Body

How Chronic Stress Harms Your Body


[♩ INTRO ] Stress happens. And that’s not always bad—starting a new
job or getting married can both be happy things, but they also can be really stressful. There are some kinds of stress that just don’t
seem to go away, though. Like the feeling that you’re drowning in
work, but still perpetually worried about making ends meet. If you deal with a lot of stress every day,
for months or years on end, then stress doesn’t just feel awful—it actually causes you physical
harm. Psychologists call any event or situation
that puts pressure on you or threatens your well-being a stressor, while stress refers
to your psychological and physical reactions. Stressors that are one and done—like locking
your keys in your car, or forgetting your wallet—bring on acute stress. But when stressors are repeated or continuous,
that’s chronic stress. Things like abusive relationships, living
in poverty, and being discriminated against have all been shown to cause chronic stress. And that psychological anguish takes a toll
physically. When you experience acute stress, your body
activates a system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, or just HPA axis because why would you
want to say all that other stuff over and over again. It starts deep in your brain, in the limbic
system — the part responsible for a lot of your automatic emotional reactions, among
other things. There, a region called the hypothalamus releases
hormones that start a whole chain of more hormones being released — first by your
pituitary gland, and then by your adrenal glands, which release a bunch of adrenaline
and cortisol into your bloodstream. And those two hormones trigger the “fight-or-flight”
response. They boost physical activity by increasing
your blood sugar and the blood flow to your muscles, and bump up your metabolism at the
same time. The idea is that the physical boost helps
you fight the stressor or run away. So, like, if you were suddenly face to face
with a bear, the surge in energy would help you either outrun it, or go all like Revenant
on it. The same system is activated by chronic stress,
but things get a bit more complicated. Researchers have found that people under some
kinds of chronic stress have perpetually high cortisol levels, as if their HPA axis is running
constantly. For others, it can depend on the timing, with
higher cortisol levels near the start of the stress before it actually dips lower than
usual. But we do know that while this stress reaction
can be helpful at times, having it running all the time is a problem. People under chronic stress are at higher
risk for all kinds of ailments, like heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and mental disorders
like anxiety and depression. That’s because, in addition to it being
super unpleasant to be stressed out all the time, the stress response is constantly sapping
your energy. The resources used by fight-or-flight have
to come from somewhere, and one of the places they come from is your immune system. On the molecular level, the same cortisol
that works to get extra glucose to your muscles also stops your body from making as many infection-fighting
white blood cells as it normally would. So stress can tank your ability to fight infections. It’s kind of like evolution is telling your
body not to worry about fighting off that cold right now, because you need to fight
that bear that is right in front of you. Except with chronic stress, the bear isn’t
a bear. It’s your crappy job. Or your unhappy relationship. Or whatever it is that stresses you out all
the time. And that means your immune system never gets
the chance to recover and deal with that cold as easily as it normally would. One famous experiment demonstrating this involved
11 dental students who volunteered to have their mouths biopsied twice: first during
summer vacation, and then again during exam week. It took an average of 3 days longer for the
wounds to heal while they were stressed about exams. All kinds of other studies have gotten similar
results — some by punching small holes in people like they did with the dental students,
and others by observing how stress affects recovery from surgery and other major wounds. There’s also research suggesting that chronic
stress explains part of the relationship between poverty and health. Even just the perception of being in a lower
socioeconomic class is associated with an increase in respiratory infections. Stress can also advance the aging process. By the time you get older, your DNA has had
to replicate so many times that the protective parts at each of the ends of the chromosome,
called telomeres, can kind of start to fray. When telomeres are shorter, it’s more likely
that there will be errors in copying genes. And those errors increase your risk of disease. There’s evidence that having more cortisol
in your blood interrupts the repair of telomeres. Which might explain why stress is linked to
diseases that are also associated with age, like heart disease, cancer, and anemia. To stay healthy, the best thing you can do
is get rid of the chronic stress. But, easier said than done. If you can’t get rid of it completely, things
like meditation and relaxation therapies can help lower your stress response. And, weirdly enough, so might changing how
you think about stress. Studies have shown that when people think
about the source of stress as a challenge to overcome instead of a threat to their well-being,
that seems to lower their perceived stress and reduce their body’s physical response. There’s another way you might be able to
improve your health, too: help others reduce their stress. In a sample of over 800 older adults, those
with high stress who also reported helping friends or neighbors with things like housework
or childcare had mortality rates similar to those with low stress. Whereas those with high stress who didn’t
help out had reduced odds of survival. So, chronic stress is not good for anyone. But even if you can’t avoid being stressed
out all the time, there are ways to help yourself relax — and sometimes you can even reduce
other people’s stress in the process. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych! If you want to keep up to date with our latest
videos explaining how these big ole noggins of ours work, head over to youtube.com/scishowpsych
and click on that subscribe button because it’ll all come into your subscription box
and you’ll watch every single one of them and it really helps… with the YouTube algorithm. Thank you! [♩ OUTRO ]

85 comments

  1. Why do sexual fetishes even exist in our minds? That question keeps bothering me for quite a while now and as someone who has one, yeah, it's stressful when I think about that question.

  2. Hey Hank, it’s “stress” not “shhtress”. We don’t live in Germany and speak German. That mispronunciation drives me nutty. Thanks. 🙂

  3. Can we get over the idea that stress response is "fight or flight"? There are 5 Fs…

    "Freeze" (self-explanatory) is another response that's been well-documented and accepted by most/many since the 90s. "Friend" is another response. It's what babies to do when stressed—cry to get a caregiver, then coo, make faces, or grab at them to form a relationship. When someone is scared, they might instinctively grab someone's hand and when they're feeling overwhelmed, they might seek physical or verbal affection to feel better. "Flop" is the least-well-known, and it describes when the body and mind yield to the threat. A person's body goes limp and their mind goes offline, so to speak (dissociate). For example, a child of an abusive parent might adopt this tactic if they can't fight, they know running/hiding (flight) will make their eventual abuse worse, friend tactics have failed, and freezing does nothing to protect them.

    The flop response is an unfortunately misunderstood coping mechanism and I think it's important to talk about because understanding this lessens victim blaming in cases of abuse (of all types, on humans of all ages).

  4. Yup, there's the reason I have grey hairs already.
    It's ridiculous the effect stress has, just in the last two years I think I've aged more than in the five years before that.

  5. The things Hank talks about in the video is why having GAD is so painful and unpleasant. With GAD you don't even need an actual stressor. Your brain will invent one for you.

  6. I was scared to watch this video and avoided it for days but it kept popping up in my feed so I was like, “well better just get it over with” and find out all the diseases my mind if giving me XD

  7. Thanks for this. I finally have the guts to move on from my failed relationship to save myself thru all these diseases that I might get if I continue to stress myself because of him.

  8. A 5:36 minute video?! If I watched this video, I'd have 5:36 minutes less to do work! I could do my dishes, my laundry and go grocery shopping in this period of time! I mean, 5:34 would be OK, but can I really afford to waste 5:36??? This is so stressful!

  9. Hank is the most adorable person on the planet with that nervous laugh of his lmao
    Already subscribed a long time ago! I think I pretty much watched all of the videos in all SciShow channels!

  10. My chronic stress has been dealing with an abusive stepmother for over a decade then finally getting out of that situation in 2014. To this day, I still got PTSD from that…

  11. YEEE, around 2 years ago when I was 14 the stress from school got so bad I got shingles which is pretty damn rare for a normally healthy 14 year old to develop. Wasn’t pleasant, but that was the first time I ended up getting sick because of school stress

  12. And my colleagues and friends think that when I'm distancing myself from the society I was being arrogant, disrespectful and ungrateful when in fact I was just taking some free time to 'relieve' the very stresses they put me in.

  13. so cptsd dies have something do do with constantly being sick???? i thought i just had really shitty luck

    i mean, i do, but i didn't think the two were correlated

  14. This video is very oddly well timed for me for where I'm at in right now in life. Thank you Hank and Sci show team, i needed this video today.

  15. here's a funny one: what's worse for you; being chronically stressed, or the bad habits/vices we use to deal with it?

  16. Haha… yea. So like…. SO SICK right now, and have been for a LONG TIME…. so far it's looking like chronic stress is the cause. I mean it already is causing a ton of premature aging as well as made me lose some of my hair so like…. GOOD TIMES.

  17. I think that despite being low risk in every other way, that my chronic anxiety disorder predisposed me to early type 2 diabetes.

  18. Hank, I've been watching sci show for some years now and although I really enjoy most of your content and the education that comes, I am a profile that doesn't normally comment… However, your honest and humble ask for a like and subscribe in this video got me feeling a debt of gratitude for everything that you have done. Thank you. I was moved to like comment and subscribe (with the bell).

  19. Me knowing full well that signing up for an AP class where I know no one to ask help for especially with social anxiety means twenty years off my life

    But you know what, I still did it. And it probably won't be getting any better as the semester goes on dear lord.

  20. now at 25 my chronic stress for the past…..mmm… my whole life. has started making my hair fall out so rapidly it freaked out my dermatologist… also nearly constant ongoing panic attacks… who knows what parts of my dying body is caused by stress, anxiety, or depression. its fun. and by fun i mean i long for the sweet release of death

  21. I get fever blisters on my mouth when I'm particularly overwhelmed (or when the temperature or humidity changes drastically) and I've found the BEST way to prevent them and help them heal is to calm tf down. Starting ADHD medication helped with this lol.

    Freshman year in university, before my ADHD diagnosis and treatment, I got a new fever blister just as the previous one was healing. It was a fun time.

  22. School stresses me out, every single day, there’s not a day of school that I feel relaxed and happy. I’ve been this way since kindergarten, however, I’m a senior now so it’s finally almost over. Meditation during and after school helps a little though.

  23. This is so true stress has a massive impact on physical health. After my son died I've developed epileptic seizures

  24. On a side note, I'm now on Zoloft for my G.A.D., and I can tell you that life is WAAY more manageable. I can't believe I ever lived as keyed-up as I used to be.

    Make no mistake: I'm still keyed-up—that'll probably never go away—but it's a much duller sensation now. Much more manageable.

  25. Y’know, people usually call it flight or flight but it’s actually flight flight or freeze, people just don’t talk about the freeze part often

  26. get rid of chronic stress..lol…can't afford to…I am rubbish with relaxation methods because it just makes it worse..yay

  27. That explains how last semester I got more mouth ulcers, got common cold like at least once a month, got migraine and gastritis so often, and peaked in a depressive episode in like, a few months ago

  28. Chronic stress can affect your body in multiple ways. For one stress hormones can cause an excessive amount of strain which in itself can lead to an inflammatory reaction; stress also consumes energy and increases body heat, potentially 'cooking' you alive. In addition stress also leads to less sleep, as we feel uncomfortable or our anger from being stressed and in pain can lead us to losing that sleep just trying to toss and turn to get there every night.

    Exhaustion leads to more stress, which leads to less ability to cope with daily activities and burn out, potentially costing jobs as health is impacted. Our grades may suffer, and projects may fail because of an excess of stress that we cannot physically cope with, and eventually depression and learned helplessness becomes set.

    Due to all of these factors, our life's quality degrades, we get more stressful moments, and become more callous. But it is at least beautiful to see a half burned woman playing the piano so well.

  29. Wow, it's almost as if our entire culture rigs people (especially on lower incomes) to experience chronic stress that they can't get out of. I think we'd have to completely restructure how we divide up our time to reduce this (and probably restructure support systems etc as well). I think stuff like siestas and a good night life help with that

  30. How long does it need for chronic stress to have impact on our bodies? I've been really stressed about 3 weeks. My legs, arms, neck weaken, it feels like I've just done something physically tiring.

  31. My stress is causing me traumatic sleep/ crying in sleep, sharp, SHARP pain while breathing, getting sick, depression. It’s getting worse 😔

  32. So no one is gonna talk about stress and the increase so stroke That’s what scare me and I’m taking benzo every once in a while ..0

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