How stress affects your health and wellbeing

man stressed on a sofa

Stress does not cause diseases, but by affecting our immune system, it may make us more vulnerable to getting ill, and influence how fast we heal.

People who are stressed are more likely to get diseases, and less likely to recover fast. This is because stress diverts energy from the immune system, inhibiting the activities. It may slow down healing of surgical wounds, make you more vulnerable to a disease and worsen its course. Chronic stress also triggers persistent inflammation, which increases the risks of heart disease and depression.

A study in 2012 found out that people experiencing constant stress were less resistant to a common cold than those who did not experience stress. When under stress, the immune system is unable to respond to a disease and cannot protect itself as fast, leading to a higher chance of us getting sick.

Stress inevitably affects the way we make decisions, and can also bring changes in our lifestyle. As a result, it increases the risk for diabetes, which is especially true for overweight individuals. Moreover, stress and its consequences are also likely to reflect in our everyday habits, making us prone to unhealthy lifestyle, high-fat diet choices, and further increasing the risks. Stress hormones also make us more likely to select sugary, fat foods, but studies also show that stress may also reduce the speed with which we burn calories.

Stress can affect our sleep cycle, and cause sleep deprivation. This in return has an impact on energy levels, memory and emotional wellbeing, and also comes with negative consequences on our health.

Being stressed also alters the acid concentration in the stomach. This, in turn, affects other organs in our bodies, and can lead to ulcers. Although researchers are yet to agree on what is the most common reason for ulcers and acid reflux, the relationship between stress levels and acid levels is evident – stress makes our body more open to bacteria and is a critical factor in digestion problems, acid levels and heartburn.

Is all stress bad for you?

However, the relationship between stress, the immune system and health is complex. Studies show that not all stress has negative effect: short-term stress can actually boost the immune system. It is chronic stress that has the most negative impact on our wellbeing and health, and has the power to affect our immune system that ultimately manifest an illness. 

Stress and mental health

But physical illnesses aren't the only consequence of chronic stress. What it has has most impact on is our mental illness. While it can affect our physical wellbeing and result in physical illnesses like a flu, herpes or any other infection, chronic stress is even more likely to have an impact on neuroses, leading to depression or other psychiatric illnesses. It throws several brain neurotransmitter systems out of balance, negatively affecting mood, appetite, sleep. Some severely depressed people have permanently elevated cortisol levels, which can eventually alter the hippocampus and permanently damage brain cells.

When does stress affect us the most?

Stress affects us the most when events that cause it are uncontrollable. The feeling of helplessness, inability to control events around us, real of perceived lack of control, all have long term effects on our health. Loss of control also increases our stress hormones, blood pressure, and reduce the responses of our immune system.

Coping with stress

Different people deal with stress through the use of different coping strategies. One way to do so is by targeting the source of stress and changing the way we respond to it. Another way is by avoiding the cause, and instead focusing on our emotional needs. Both ways are valid ways of coping, and selecting one of another depends on the stress levels, its causes and individual preferences.

One important way to handle stress, or reduce the impact it has on you, is social support. Studies show that older women caring after ill family members, were more likely to have faster wound healing and higher vaccines' effectiveness if they had a strong network of friends and family who supported them. Those lacking the social support healed slower. Belonging to social groups and networks remains and important factor in health and emotional wellbeing, and helps alleviate the effects that stress has on our body.

When stress is affecting your everyday activities, how you feel and what you can do – it is always a good idea to seek help of a medical professional, as long-term effects of stress can be irreversible.

Sleep deprivation comes at a high price to your health

Remote work can give you more control over your work timing, environment, and improve productivity. But working from home can very quickly affect your sleep schedule and lead to sleep deprivation.

Working from home can save you a lot of time and money, improve productivity and provide you with some extra time for personal and professional development. But for many, working from home can very soon wreak havoc on their sleep schedule.

The failure to control your sleep schedule can very soon come at a very high price. Yet, getting a good amount of sleep and following a schedule is as important as never before. This is because lack of sleep can affect your immune system – people who don't get enough sleep are more likely to get sick, and normally take longer to recover from an illness.

Constant lack of quality sleep also reduces the effect of the flu vaccine. This happens because your body is unable to respond the way it should to the illness, and is more prone to bacteria.

Sleep deprivation also increases your risk for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart diseases, and people suffering from chronic lack of sleep are also more likely to be overweight. As you lack sleep, you are more likely to eat very late, and your body has less time and power to digest the food in the right way. Studies show connection between lack of sleep and weight gain, and people who constantly get less than six hours of sleep per day are more likely to be overweight.

In short term, sleep also has a massive impact on your performance and daily wellbeing – so while you might be excited the first few weeks, expect a drop of productivity very soon when your body simply lacks the energy it needs.

Making your work from home experience less stressful

While some consider work from home as an ultimate career goal, others would rather get that early trip to work, grab a cup of morning coffee in their offices, and share the day among friends and colleagues. But when most of the world is pushed into their homes, chances are, you probably have little choice right now. Here are a few tips on how to make the best out of this experience (and not go crazy).

work from home

Get dressed as if you are going to an actual office

It might be tempting to move from the bed to your home office desk in your pyjamas, but truth is – you will never get a true feeling of work if you do not set clear boundaries between personal and working time. This applies to clothing too! A few weeks of t-shirts and pyjama pants – and dressing up would soon feel like something you do on a holiday.

Getting ready for work, even if work is a few steps away, is likely to help you keep up with the routine, help you focus, and divide personal time and space from work and responsibilities. Wearing clothes you would normally wear at work is also going to reduce the chances that very soon, every day would feel the same, and you will loose the sense of when the week begins and when it ends. This matters, because repeating routine could quickly lead you to depression, and this is the last thing you need in this situation. Plus, you never know when someone might ask you to turn on the camera, right?

Give yourself scheduled breaks, just like you did in the office

If you normally get a break at 13:00, do the same at home. If official office breaks never suited you anyway – move it to whenever suits you. add some changes to your routine, and get some benefits out of the experience. But most important thing is – make sure the breaks are as long as they would be in your office environment.

This ensures you do not get distracted. It also stops you from postponing your responsibilities for later, and helps you ensure your work from home does not extend into your normal life and you do not spend the next few weeks sitting at your desk continuously. Starting work at the same time, getting the same amount of rest, and ensuring breaks, helps you finish your responsibilities and tasks on time and continue with your personal life.

Turn your phone off, if possible

Whenever possible, keep your phone on silent or turn it off completely. It is easier to get distracted especially now when we are dependent on our phones more than ever, and when our dearest ones are far away and cannot see us.

Of course, your job now probably requires you to have your phone next to you too, or maybe maybe you cannot disconnect completely during working time for other reasons. But removing your phone as a distraction at least at times when work needs 100% of your attention will pay off very quickly. You will finish those tasks faster, better and with less distraction so you can have your well deserved rest sooner.

iPhone X beside MacBook

Try a social media blocking tool

This one is an extension of the above. We know that many jobs today require you to use your phone. Plus, working online makes you even more dependent on your phone and its features. But social media is what distracts you the most. Get off Facebook and Instagram, turn off notifications while you work, or use one of the social media blocking tools from this list to stay focused and productive.

work from home social media

Keep your work from home desk clean and remove clutter

Some claim they work bess in the so-called "creative mess". But truth is – most of us perform best when in clean environments and neat workspaces with no distractions. Whether or not this is your office desk, or a home office desk, does not matter. Clean your desk every evening after you are done with work, and prepare it every morning before you start with your working day.

Add some decorations, fresh plants, flowers, natural light or a bulb, or turn it into an artsy desk if you can – anything to make you more likely to want to spend time there, and enjoy it. Statistics say, clean and minimal desks improve productivity. Here are 5 desk setups to boost productivity and improve your working environment. Or here is a Pinterest board with a huge collection of home desk decor inspiration for a more productive environment.

work from home environment

Treat yourself with a good cup of coffee, or a healthier alternative!

Used to get a coffee cup every morning before starting your tasks back in the office? Make one at home too. Or maybe you can use this time to make a healthier, fresher drink like a juice, or fruit infused water that might not only give you an energy boost better than coffee, but keep you fresh during the day. Here are a few recipes of healthy alternatives to morning coffee, or infused water. Coffee or not, remember – at least don't have to pay for every cup this time! ☕

infused water

Ensure plenty of sunlight.

Working from home gives you the freedom to decide how your desk looks like and where it stands. While your office desk location may be pre-defined, working from home usually means you can decide where exactly and how you place your desk, and how much light and window access it has. Sunlight keeps your mood and energy levels up and will help you stay fresh, healthy and full of energy during the day. Working in low sunlight levels is bad for your mood, but will also affect your eye vision. Expect getting tired much faster if your desk location does not get enough sun.

Placing your desk by the window does not mean that it should necessarily face the window – most of the time, the sunlight is brighter than your desktop screen, making it harder to read and causing more strain on your eyes. Place your desk close to a window, ensuring a decent amount of natural sunlight that will help you stay focused and reduce eye strain, but also ensuring it does not burn you directly. While direct sunlight will not have any harm, direct rays on your face and skin will likely become a distraction during the day, cause discomfort and affect your ability to focus. That Here are some tips on how to position your desk to increase productivity.

Ensure you sleep enough

Creating your own timetable may be tempting now that you get to decide if you work 8 to 5. But trust us, sooner than later you will find our that moving and playing around with your timetable only increases your workload, makes your working day longer and eventually affects your sleep.

Point is, no matter when you wake up and go to sleep, and whether or not you need to be up by your desk by 8 AM sharp – your body needs to follow its natural sleep cycles. There is a reason why we sleep when the sun goes down, and wake up when it goes up, and playing with this would eventually lead to lack of focus, exhaustion and less concentration. You still need as much as sleep as you needed before!

woman sleeping at home

Stretch, exercise, walk

We know – finding time and space to work out now might be out of question for many of us. But we are spending more time at our computers now than ever. If sitting by your desk for the whole day is not going to give you long-term health problems, then it is for sure going to result in back pain, tension and stress.

Discomfort caused by spending a lot of time on your chair is also going to affect your ability to concentrate. Spend those breaks in between work stretching – good thing is, you can now do stretching exercises you might have been too embarrassed to do at the office! Have some energy for a full workout? Join a free YouTube channel with an easy to follow fitness workout – good thing is that we got a list for you a few days ago.

Whatever is your fitness and flexibility level is – there is always some sort of exercise that fits your abilities. Even when you are too tired for a full body workout, or even a desk stretch in between your working time – a few eye exercises to improve your vision are going to help a lot.

woman in black t-shirt and black pants lying on black yoga mat

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