Author: Luke Sholl
We all encounter stress on a daily basis, whether it's the result of work, family obligations, relationships, or a combination of the three. While some degree of stress is normal, and even advantageous, for humans, chronic (prolonged) stress can take a serious toll on many facets of our health.
Keep reading to learn about how stress impacts mental and physical health, and how to use this relationship to your advantage.
Mental health is a state that's become increasingly important in modern society. Described as a person's psychological, social, and emotional well-being, practising good mental health helps us to stay focused, reduce disease risk, and feel at our best. However, one factor that significantly impacts mental health is stress.
Although we might feel down for a few days, acute stress is actually good for our body, and a perfectly normal reaction to difficult or uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, should that stress become chronic, the impact on mental health is significant.
To understand how stress affects our brain, we first need to head back in time to our prehistoric ancestors. Staring down the snout of a sabre-toothed tiger, early humans would have had two options: stand and fight, or run for their life. While we know which one we would choose, both options trigger a biological chain reaction throughout the mind.
During a difficult situation, the mind becomes a hive of activity. The amygdala (the emotional processing part of our brain) sends an urgent signal to the hypothalamus (the brain's command centre), and from there, the two coordinate our stress response. In most cases, our body receives a surge of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol—our body's primary stress hormone—increasing focus, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Thankfully, we no longer have to deal with sabre-toothed tigers, but our body still reacts to stressful situations in the same way. While this series of biological reactions can be beneficial in the short term, a buildup of stress hormones can wreak havoc on our mental wellness, affecting functions such as:
• Generation of new brain cells
• Memory and learning ability
• Thought processing
Given the breadth of symptoms stress can cause, chronic cases are often linked with mental illness. That doesn't mean that stress will definitely lead to mental illness, but the risk of developing anxiety or depression, in particular, is high in severe cases.
There's also the adverse effect mental illness has on stress level. It's common for mental illness to become a trigger for stress, especially if a condition impacts one's ability to work or maintain healthy relationships. Unfortunately, stress and mental illness are intrinsically linked because each contributes to the severity of the other.
However, you can use this symbiotic nature to your advantage. Tackling chronic stress can improve some mental illnesses, in the same way treating mental illness can lower one's stress level.
While the impact of stress may start in the brain, it doesn't take long for the effects to trickle down to our physical health, resulting in all manner of sustained symptoms. These include:
• Difficulty breathing
• Loss of libido
• Chest pain
Many of these symptoms will be instantly recognisable to sufferers. However, we don't just display the impact of stress externally. Internally, our body is struggling to restore balance. The chemical turmoil caused by chronic stress extends to many critical biological systems, including our digestive, immune, and nervous systems.
Stress can cause a powerful reaction in the gastrointestinal tract. Acid buildup in the stomach, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, spasms in the oesophagus; all of these symptoms can be caused by chronic stress—stress that won't go away. In worst-case scenarios, if you already have a pre-existing condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or stomach ulcers, stress can further exacerbate these disorders.
A review published in Nature Reviews Cardiology examined the direct correlation between psychological stress and cardiovascular disease using several scientific sources. Key points from the study include: "Psychological stress contributes to cardiovascular disease at several stages", and, "Chronic stress at work and in private life is associated with a 40–50% increase in the occurrence of coronary heart disease".
Chronic stress weakens our immune system's ability to operate efficiently. A review published by the University of Kentucky concluded that "...research into the effects of stress on inflammation in clinical populations has demonstrated that stress exposure can increase the likelihood of developing disease".
Stress can affect anyone, at any time, regardless of sex. That said, there's no avoiding the hormonal trends among males and females. We previously mentioned the fundamental role of cortisol and epinephrine in our stress response, but there is another hormone to consider: oxytocin.
Oxytocin is important because its primary function is to soften the impact of other stress hormones, helping us to relax. Females tend to produce naturally greater levels of oxytocin, meaning they're more likely to nurture and reach out to others when stressed. Males, on the other hand, tend to have a stronger fight or flight response.
Unfortunately, stress remains an incredibly sophisticated reaction, and it's almost impossible to quantify a response based solely on sex. Just know that while hormone levels may alter our initial stress response, we shouldn't let that stop us from practising effective stress management.
There's no denying the vast impact of stress on both the mind and body. Combined with the differences in stress response according to sex, and the implication of various socioeconomic factors, it's no wonder dealing with stress is often overwhelming! Researchers are constantly looking for new ways to tackle stress, including the use of supplements like CBD.
Encouragingly, studies suggest CBD can support our body's innate drive for balance—a drive that only becomes greater the more stressed we become. Getting the body back to an equal footing helps to reset hormone levels, limiting the impact of neurochemicals such as cortisol.
There's still a lot more to learn about the relationship between CBD and stress, including issues related to dosing, the effectiveness of full-spectrum extract versus isolate, and the best methods of consumption. However, in the meantime, CBD's lack of toxicity makes it an excellent addition to an established stress-management routine.
If you're interested in adding CBD to your daily regime, browse the Cibdol store for a complete selection of CBD oils, capsules, creams, and much more. For tips on dealing with stress, and greater detail on common stress symptoms, search our CBD Encyclopedia for everything you need to know.
 Steptoe, A., & Kivimäki, M. (2012). Stress and cardiovascular disease. Nature Reviews Cardiology. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrcardio.2012.45 [Source]
 Morey, J. N., Boggero, I. A., & Scott, A. B. (2016). Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/ [Source]
 Verma, R., Singh Balhara, Y. P., & Gupta, C. S. (2011). Gender differences in stress response: Role of developmental and biological determinants. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3425245/ [Source]
 Ferro, M., Escalante, P., & Graubard, A. (2020). THE ROLE OF CANNABIDIOL IN THE INFLAMMATORY PROCESS AND ITS PROPERTIES AS AN ALTERNATIVE THERAPY. Innovare Journal of Medical Sciences. Published. https://innovareacademics.in/journals/index.php/ijms/article/view/39501/23812 [Source]