1. Memory Problems
Always misplacing your keys or forgetting where you parked? Blame it on being constantly frazzled. Chronic stress affects spatial learning and memory, which is how you learn and remember how to navigate your surroundings, research shows.
2. Heart Disease
When you’re stressed out, the amygdala, which is the part of your brain responsible for reacting to fear, senses a threat and sends a signal to the hypothalamus, activating your fight or flight response. That reaction is helpful if you’re about to get hit by a car, but less so if the “threat” is your 9-to-5 desk job. Researchers have found that when the amygdala is chronically activated from stress, it increases your risk for cardiovascular disease later in life, regardless of other risks factors.
Stress can be a headache, literally. But for people who suffer from migraines, the weekend after a big presentation might be even worse than the day of, according to a 2014 study in the journal Neurology. The researchers found that when people relaxed after a stressful event, they were more likely to get a migraine, especially in the six hours following their heightened stress. Why? Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which has been found to reduce pain, the researchers write. Without the increased cortisol, you may experience migraines more intensely.
4. Weight Gain
Cortisol strikes again. In one recent study in the journal Obesity, researchers measured cortisol levels in hair samples of more than 2,500 older adults. They found that waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) were higher in people with higher levels of cortisol. Another study found that women consumed more food—especially sweets—on the days they were stressed than when they weren’t. Let’s be real: who hasn’t stress eaten chocolate?
5. Decreased Exercise Motivation
Consider yourself lucky if you like to take your stress out on the pavement. For most people, stress impairs efforts to be physically active, according to a study in the journal Sports Medicine. After all, it’s easier to pour a glass of rosé than it is to jog around Green Lake. But even though it might seem like a catch-22, forcing yourself to get out and move can help you avoid stress, studies show.
6. Poor Sleep
You don’t need a study to tell you that a stressful day can lead to a stressful night of tossing and turning. And missing out on sleep can lead to a vicious cycle of being stressed out, not sleeping well, and then stressing out about how you aren’t sleeping. One study suggests that how you cope with stress may also be hurting your sleep. Using drugs or alcohol, distracting with TV or a movie or avoiding dealing with your stress at all are all linked with an increased insomnia risk, the researchers found.