Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Financial stress can be harmful to your health

The state of the economy has left many people and families worried about money. From paying bills to finding a job to coping with high medical costs, it can be hard to think of anything else when financial woes come your way. It's no secret that stress from finances can play a big role in changing your mental state, causing mood swings or even depression, but many may not realize what a marked effect it can also have on your physical well-being. Stress, whether from finances or other conflicts in your life, can do a number on your overall health, often in ways that you may not even realize are related to stress. If you're going through a stressful financial situation, make sure you take good care of your body, take time to relax, and get help to make sure these harmful physical effects don't take a toll on you.

Lost sleep

One of the earliest signs that stress is affecting your body is insomnia. Lack of sleep can cause some immediate effects on the body that can make getting through the day pretty hard, something no financially stressed person needs on top of everything else. While there may not be a way to get more sleep without getting rid of what's stressing you, you can set yourself up for better rest with a good bedtime routine every night.

Less money for preventative care

There is no way around it, health insurance is expensive. For those facing financial problems, it can be one of the first things cut from the budget, or may simply be lost along with exiting a job. Whatever the case may be, lack of insurance most often leads to lack of preventative care, or any care at all. Those worried about running up huge medical bills may not be as willing to head to the doctor when they see troubling signs or early indications of bigger problems. 
3 Increased levels of anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression are mental effects of stress, but they can have some physical manifestations as well. Those who are chronically stressed may begin to have panic attacks, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and increased aches and pains throughout the body. These symptoms are related both to the underlying stress and to the depression and anxiety it may cause.

A greater risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke

Stress is hard on the body, especially chronic stress, and can lead to some very serious health issues if not kept in check. Among the scariest of these is an increase in your risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Part of this may be due to those who are stressed engaging in unhealthy behaviors like drinking and smoking, but scientists think there may be a stronger correlation. Chronic stress may weaken the immune system and put undue pressure on internal organs and processes, which can lead to a variety of serious medical conditions down the road.

Increased heart rate and blood pressure

Think about something that stresses you out? Does your heart beat faster? Stress can have a big effect on your heart and larger cardiovascular system. It can make your heart rate increase, which can in turn increase your blood pressure. Prolonged stress, and raised heart rate and blood pressure, can lead to heart arrhythmias and hypertension, both very serious heart conditions that could segue into heart attack, heart disease, or stroke. If stress is raising your blood pressure, take time out to just relax, meditate, or cool down throughout the day. Your heart will thank you for it.

Greater numbers of digestive problems like ulcers, constipation, and diarrhea

When people are stressed, they rarely eat well. This can be part of what causes digestive problems, but stress itself can also take a toll and weaken the immune system, letting the digestive track become infected or inflamed. This can lead to greater instances of conditions like ulcers, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and even heartburn. Those who had these conditions before their financial stress began may see them flare up or become worse under duress. While most digestive conditions are not caused by stress, many, if not all, can be exacerbated by it.

Hair loss

When you're already stressed out, the last thing you need to worry about is the state of your follicles, but you may not be able to avoid hair loss if you're under serious, prolonged anxiety from financial matters. There are three types of hair loss that can be associated with stress: alopecia areata, when white blood cells attack and kill hair follicles; telogen effluvium, when stress pushes growing hair into a resting phase; and trichotillomania, when a stressed person pulls out his hair as a way of coping with anxiety and tension. Hair loss can also lead to lowered self esteem, self image, and overall confidence, none of which are helpful in getting back on your financial feet.

Decreased libido

When you're worried about how to pay the rent, your love life may not be your biggest concern. And it's not just due to distraction. Stress can actually cause other factors that cause a nose-dive in libido, like lack of sleep, emotional distress, and weight gain. These all combine to make it hard to want to be intimate with a partner, even if you've never had problems with interest in sex in the past. Talking through your problems, getting rest, and enjoying intimate time can all help battle the libido-killing effects of stress.

Dental issues and gum disease

Stress seems to have an effect on every part of the body, and your teeth and gums are no exception. Stress can cause many to grind their teeth or pay little attention to oral hygiene and healthy eating, which may ultimately lead to a decline in oral health. It can also cause painful canker and cold sores, most likely due to a compromised immune system. Studies have also shown that even short-term stress can lead to increased levels of dental plaque, which can increase an individual's risk of developing gingivitis. You may not be able to get rid of all the stress in your life, but you can practice good dental hygiene, which will help reduce your risk of developing any painful or problematic issues with your oral health.

Increased risk of diabetes

Stress can cause a spike in blood sugar, which can affect both those who already have diabetes and those who don't in negative ways. While development of diabetes is often also related to other health factors like obesity and genetics, stress can often be a trigger that makes underlying conditions even worse and could push your body into a dangerous place, health-wise. For women, the link between stress and diabetes is stronger, so they need to be especially careful to monitor themselves for any early signs of the condition.

Breakouts and skin problems

Just when you want and need to look your best, stress makes you look your worst. When you're stressed, your brain releases stress hormones and your immune system may be weakened, both factors that can cause your skin to go haywire. Bacteria trapped in pores, which your body can't fight off, can lead to breakouts, and your skin may become oily, flushed, dry, or inflamed in response to stress. Some people may get hives or rashes, while others may have painful, sensitive skin. Whatever the result, stress is just plain bad for your skin, and it's essential to keep it moisturized and clean and eat well when pressure's high.

Weight gain or loss

Depending on your genetic makeup and personality, stress can cause either weight loss or weight gain. Some people may experience a loss of appetite when under stress that makes them eat less and lose weight. Others may eat more to help them cope with the emotional distress caused by financial issues. Cortisol, the body's stress hormone, can often play a role in weight gain by increasing appetite and holding weight in your mid-section — a holdover from our caveman days, when stress was a response to a danger that would have left us needing to replenish energy supplies. Studies have found that weight loss occurs more often as a response to short-term stress, while prolonged stresses generally cause weight gain.

Joint pain

Joint pain is often caused by chronic inflammation, which can be worsened when the body is under stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is an inflammatory agent and can leave all parts of the body, from the internal organs to the joints, inflamed and quite painful. For those who have noticed an increase in joint and muscle pain along with an increase in stress, there are several ways to help your body feel better. It can often be helpful to avoid eating sweets and foods with a lot of carbs as these can cause additional inflammation. Instead, seek out omega-3s in your foods, which can help reduce inflammation. Exercise can also help to loosen up painful joints.

Coping with stress through unhealthy behaviors

Studies have shown that people under stress often engage in unhealthy drinking, drug use, and overeating. All of these behaviors can have serious health effects that can last well after a stressful event is over, and drinking and drug use, if done in excess, could even lead to death, paralysis, or other very serious effects. While these activities may lead to short-term reductions in stress, they offer little in long-term resolutions of stress, and can actually increase stress if they lead to a loss of a job, serious health issues, or financial problems. Those who are having difficulty coping with financial issues should seek out someone to talk to and engage in other, healthier methods of coping like exercise.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath generally freaks people out, and for good reason. It could be an early sign of a serious health issue. It can, however, also be a side effect of prolonged stress. Stress can lead to panic attacks, which can cause chest pressure and shortness of breath. It can also increase your risk of conditions like heart disease, which sometimes have the side effect of shortness of breath. Those who have asthma or other breathing problems may find that their condition is worsened considerably when under stress. Anytime you are experiencing shortness of breath, visit a doctor to ensure it is not a serious condition that requires immediate treatment.

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