Map Your Stress Points

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Hair, lungs, heart, immune system

Hair

Considered a barometer of inner health, hair is often the first to suffer. A body under stress burns nutrients, like the vitamin selenium, and that can lead to dull hair and premature graying. Chronic stress can trigger the autoimmune system to attack hair follicles, causing hair to fall out completely or in clumps.

Lungs

One of the first things we do when we feel stressed is hyperventilate. It's part of the body's fight-or-flight response -- in case we're in danger and need the extra oxygen in our bloodstream to run for cover. Those quick breaths can cause dizziness and sharp pains in the diaphragm. Severe stress can aggravate asthma and other dangerous respiratory conditions.

Heart

A heart under stress pumps fast and hard. Blood pressure rises as the body produces the hormones epinephrine and cortisol. That can lead to heart palpitations and chest pains. In those with heart disease, stress can prevent blood from clotting properly and stimulate the formation of plaque that plugs arteries.

Researchers say that even thinking about something stressful raises blood pressure. And a Swedish study concluded that stressful romantic relationships were more damaging to a woman's heart than work-related stress: Women in troubled marriages were three times more likely to be hospitalized for heart problems.

Immune system

Ever get sick after a stressful event? Extreme and constant stress lowers our white blood cell count, making us more susceptible to disease and hampering our body's ability to heal itself. One recent study showed that the pneumonia vaccine was less effective in people under constant stress. Meanwhile, researchers are studying the link between stress and autoimmune disorders like Graves Disease, in which antibodies attack the thyroid, eye muscles and skin.

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