How Stress Takes a Toll on Your Body … and What You Can Do About It

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Reality star Kendra Wilkinson is having a pretty stressful summer amid the rumors that her husband, football player Hank Baskett, may have cheated on her. And it’s taking a toll on their newborn daughter, Alijah, as the stress has reportedly made 29-year-old Wilkinson’s breast milk decrease. 

“It’s affecting her milk production and, quite simply, breaking her heart,” a friend of Wilkinson’s told People magazine of how the former Playboy Playmate is dealing with her marital struggles and how they’re indirectly affecting her 2-month-old.

Although Wilkinson’s situation may be extreme, it’s not at all unusual for women to experience bodily changes when they’re dealing with stressful situations. People with high levels of stress are at higher risk for heart disease, obesity, headaches, and depression. it’s estimated that 75 to 90 percent of doctor visits for adults in the United States are for health issues related to or made worse by stress.

Sascha de Gersdorff, the deputy editor of Women’s Health magazine, knows stories like Wilkinson’s all too well. “Stress is one of our number-one topics that readers ask about,” she told Yahoo Health. “It’s unfortunately totally universal among women. I think that today, because everyone is multitasking in their work and personal lives, it’s gotten out of hand.” Many women have two to-do lists, one for the home and one for the office, that dominate their everyday decisions, and that feeling off never being able to “turn it off” can lead to major health issues down the road.

De Gersdorff thinks it’s important to make a distinction between good stress and bad stress. “Short-term stress can be healthy. The main thing to remember is acute in-the-moment stress versus chronic stress, which is almost never helpful,” she explained. “Say you’re going into a huge presentation that you’re going to make. Your body is going to be jazzed up and you’ll be stressed, so you get into fight-or-flight mode where your body pumps up your adrenaline and your cortisol. That reaction will probably help you out and power you through and help you to perform well in that moment. For most people, they get a boost from that, and that’s a good thing.”

It’s when stress accumulates and becomes a regular occurrence that the negative effects begin to pile up. De Gersdorff advises thinking about both short and long-term strategies for coping. For the short term, something as simple as taking a break from technology or turning your phone off at a certain hour can help you sleep better and feel more relaxed. Over the longer term, engaging in a healthy mind-body activity like meditation or yoga can also keep you from suffering the physical consequences of being stressed out.

The stressed-out Wilkinson has been getting a little help from her friends, including Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, as she copes with a difficult time in her life. And De Gersdorff says that spending time with pals, even if it’s just a quick phone catch-up, can do wonders for your self-esteem and your sanity. “Supportive social connections can also help lower stress. If you have a great group of girlfriends and you can meet once a week for happy hour – you might say it’s not healthy because you might be drinking, but I think the social component can outweigh whatever else you’re doing,” she said. “Having time to wind down with supportive social connections can be an amazing stress-fighter.”

If you’re stressed all the time, your body will start to change in negative ways, De Gersdorff cautions. But there’s good news, too. Making even minor adjustments like getting a more soothing alarm clock or switching from coffee to tea can start to pay off quickly.