9 ways too much stress screws up your life
But it's possible to have too much of a good thing. When stress becomes unmanageable, it can wreak havoc on everything from your diet to your relationships.
We rounded up nine science-backed ways that both short- and long-term stress affect your daily behavior.Read on to find out why you may act less rationally, ethically, and friendly when you're overwhelmed.
1. You may end up making bad decisions.
Research suggests that it's best to avoid making important choices when you're feeling stressed. That's because you tend to overemphasize the potential positive outcomes of your decision, while underemphasizing the negative.
For example , if you're under pressure to decide whether to take a job offer, you might focus on the company perks and forget about the long commute.
2. You may act irritable.
You're likely already aware that you're less exciting to be around when you're stressed out.
Blame it on your neurobiological activity: Scientists recently discovered that chronic stress triggers an enzyme to attack a certain molecule in the brain, and the result is decreased sociability (at least in rodents).
3. You may have a harder time achieving your goals.
In one experiment , scientists found that stress hormones inhibit activity in the areas of the brain involving goal-directed behavior - but not in areas of the brain involved in habitual behavior.In other words, when you're under stress, you're likely to fall back into old patterns instead of changing your behavior to achieve specific goals. So if you're in a stressful situation while trying to lose weight, you may find yourself snacking on cookies as usual instead of grapes.
4. You may be more likely to behave unethically.
Beware the impulse to cheat on a high-stakes exam.
A recent study found that people with high levels of the hormones testosterone and cortisol were more likely to cheat on a math test. (Cortisol generally increases when you're stressed.)
Moreover, the study also found that people who cheated exhibited decreased cortisol levels, meaning cheating may have been a way to relieve some of their stress symptoms.
5. You may be willing to work harder for a reward, even though you don't necessarily like it more.
Another recent study helps explain why you might raid every cabinet in search of a chocolate bar when you're feeling frazzled. According to the research, stress makes us want rewards more than usual - even though the pleasure we experience from getting those rewards isn't any greater.
The study authors say these findings help explain why stress is an important determinant of relapses in addiction, gambling, and binge eating.
6. You may take greater risks.
Research on adolescents suggests that socially anxious individuals are more likely to take risks when they experience stress.One potential explanation why is that people who are highly anxious and under stress focus on regulating their response to the stressor and don't have sufficient cognitive resources to inhibit their risky behavior.
At the same time, another study found that men in general are more likely to take risks when under stress, while women become more conservative.
7. You may have a harder time resisting junk food.
New research findings help illuminate why we so often turn to candy and "comfort foods" when we're feeling stressed. According to the study , stress affects the part of the brain that communicates sensory information (like taste) as well as the part involved in self-control.
In other words, unhealthful food may appear even more delicious , and it may be even harder to stick to your weight-loss or weight-maintenance goal.
8. You may be less inclined to exercise.
A growing body of research suggests that stress inhibits physical activity (although some studies have found that stress increases physical activity among people who are already avid exercisers).
Researchers say that's possibly because stress may make the unpleasant sensations associated with exercise even more salient.
9. You may be more forgetful.
If you've ever felt scatterbrained and about to cry during an extended stressful period, recent research could explain why.
A study on rats finds that chronic stress rewires parts of their brains so that they're more emotional and more forgetful.