We all have some level of stress.
It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).
Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances and can even be life-saving.
In acute stress when the “threat” (a.k.a. “stress”) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.
It’s the chronic stress that’s a problem. Your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that can mess with your health.
Examples of chronic stress that may affect your health are;
- Being unhappy in your job
- Heavy workload or too much responsibility
- Long working hours with little sleep
- Death of a loved one
- Loss of job
- Increased financial obligations
- Chronic illness or injury
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
- Traumatic event such as a natural disaster or violence
- Fear or uncertainty
- Unrealistic expectations
Our bodies are conditioned to secrete hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in response to stressful events. In acute stress, adrenaline is releases to help us navigate the situation. Followed by cortisol to bring the body back down to a relaxed state. In chronic stress, there is an overload of these hormones into the system that start to affect our mood, energy, digestion, sleep. With prolonged stress, the body loses the ability to secrete the stress hormones that are needed to preserve our health. This inability to ward off stress leave us vulnerable to illness and diseases.
Stress, and stress hormones, can have a huge impact on your health.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. No science lesson today. Lets just look at the facts. Plane and simple. The effects of chronic stress are serious.
#1 – Increased Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes
We’re diving right in. Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed.
Stress increased the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood “thickness,” as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.
#2 – Immunity
Did you notice that you get sick more often when you’re stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed?
Well, that’s because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.
#3 – “Leaky Gut.”
Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as “intestinal permeability.” These “leaks” can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body.
The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other.
Picture this: Have you ever played “red rover?” It’s where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should be passing right though. Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!
#4 – Sleep Disruption
Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.
And when you don’t get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood.
More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health. Not enough sleep (and too much stress) aren’t doing you any favors.
Reducing stress in your life is an obvious first step.
- Put less pressure on yourself?
- Ask for help?
- Say “no”?
- Delegate to someone else?
- Finally, make that decision?
No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. Here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:
- Deep breathing– your body chemistry changes in a matter of seconds when you slow things down and allow oxygen to nourish your body. When we are shallow breathers, we are increasing the stress response in our body. With deep breathing, you trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes relaxation, digestion and healing.
- Meditation-creating moments for calmness and clarity are imperative. If meditation is new to you, try listening to a guided meditation via YouTube or download the app Insight Timer or Calm. Meditation is a tool used by some of the most successful people in the world. If it works for them, it can work for you. They did not get there without learning an effective away to manage their stress.
- Walk in nature-moments in nature have a naturally calming effect. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical well being, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
- Unplug (read a book, take a bath)-We are constantly connected. Smart phones and computers certainly have their advantages. But being constantly connected, bombarded with information, at the beckon call of our bosses, g=family members, opportunities for comparison, more pressures on ourselves to do more be more. Moments away from technology can be healing. Stop the buzz. Listen to some music, read, journal, create and connect.
- Exercise (yoga, tai chi, etc.)-Movement regardless of structured, intense exercise triggers the release of endorphins. Even 5 minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
- Connect with loved ones-Ironically, in an age where we always have the ability to be connected, somehow, we are less and less connected to other humans. Create the time for connection. Make a coffee date with an old friend, visit your family members you have not seen lately but always had great laughs with. Create a conversation with that someone you’ve been thinking of. Or pause and get lost in a story being told to you from the familiar face you always see at the grocery store.
Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize.
Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep.
There are things you can do to both reduce stress and to improve your response to it.
Believe it or not, you are more in control of your stress than you may think.