Studies show that chronic stress can affect nearly every organ in the body.
Over time, the cells become less responsive to the regulatory effects of hormones like cortisol.
As a result, inflammation can run amuck and cause a host of health problems from autoimmune conditions to heart disease.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to stop stress in its tracks.
Let’s take a closer look at stress and health:
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to challenging events.
Evolutionarily, the stress response exists to get yourself in gear when your life is on the line.
The body gushes adrenaline and cortisol, the blood floods with glucose for fast-acting energy, the heart races, and breathing increases.
Within a matter of seconds, you’re ready to fight for your life.
Then after a short time, the body returns to normal, or at least it should…
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
In a perfect world, the parasympathetic nervous system brings the body back to “rest-and-digest” mode, but when it doesn’t, it means bad news for your health.
The catch is that the modern world is full of stressors that push the body into fight-or-flight mode.
For example, urban environments are full of loud noises and crowded spaces, and electronic devices disrupt the sleep cycle.
Together, these experiences can be terrible for stress and health.
6 Effects of Chronic Stress and Health
The immune system, digestive system, neurological system, and literally every system in the body feels the effects of stress.
Depending on your genetics, diet, and lifestyle, stress can spring up in a variety of ways.
At the center of it all, however, is inflammation…
1. Boosts Inflammation
Cortisol is one of the main hormones involved in the stress response.
Its main job is to manage inflammation, but just like diabetes can reduce insulin sensitivity, chronic stress can reduce cortisol sensitivity.
Before long, inflammation can get out of control.
Research shows that inflammation is the root of most diseases, and overactive stress response can set off a domino effect of health problems.
2. Autoimmune Conditions
Autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are strongly linked to chronic inflammation.
For example, a 2017 study of 54,000 women found that traumatic experiences can make you three times more likely to develop lupus. (1)
Men aren’t in the clear either…
A study of 2,490 Vietnam veterans found that PTSD can increase the risk of autoimmune diseases by 174 percent! (2)
The bottom line is that if you want to prevent autoimmune conditions, you’ll have to reduce stress.
3. Suppresses the Immune System
Stress also beats down the immune system.
When the body is in fight-or-flight mode, it couldn’t care less about fighting a virus, and that makes you more susceptible to infections.
Even worse, the body might overreact and cause even more inflammation.
4. Damages the Brain
Are you a workaholic?
Believe it or not, you could be hurting your brain by working too hard.
Chronic stress has a long list of negative effects on the brain, including poor memory and difficulty concentrating.
In fact, one study found that PTSD can cause the hippocampus to shrink by up to 8 percent. (3)
To make matters worse, the hippocampus is involved in turning off cortisol production, so the more stressed you are, the harder it is to control it.
5. Cardiovascular Wear-and-Tear
As the heart pumps faster, it fights to keep up with the body’s demands.
Over time, this heavier workload can damage the linings of the blood vessels and contribute to inflammation.
Ultimately, this can increase the risk of blood vessel tears and stroke.
At the same time, the blood can thicken and increase the risk of heart attacks.
6. Hormone Imbalances
The body can only produce so many hormones at once.
This means that if you’re pumping cortisol and adrenaline around the clock, there won’t be many resources left for testosterone, estrogen and other critical hormones.
In the end, this can result in health problems like:
Even worse, chronic stress during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth and miscarriage.
Helpful Tips for Stress Reduction
A recent Harvard medical study found that relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can reduce the need for healthcare services by up to 43 percent. (4)
Here’s your mini-toolkit for stress and health:
Breathe Deeply: One of the most effective shortcuts to stress reduction is hiding right under your nose (or in your nose to be exact). Breathing deeply through your nose activates the relaxation response. Plus, deep breathing reduces inflammation and alkalizes the blood.
Forest Bathing: The Japanese call it “forest bathing,” but no matter what you call it, spending time in nature is great for stress and health. The soothing sensations of natural environments are proven to reduce cortisol and improve productivity in the workplace.
Quality Sleep: Sleep deficiency is connected to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and a shorter lifespan. In fact, losing a few hours of sleep for just one night can boost inflammation and weaken the immune system. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and avoid using electronic devices too close to bedtime. (5)
Socialize More: Loneliness and isolation are both associated with obesity and early death. There’s a reason why isolation is a punishment in high-security prisons! Even in such a dangerous environment, nothing feels worse than being alone. So put down your phone and start spending more time with friends and family.
Meditate: Meditation enhances the production of serotonin, dopamine, GABA and other essential neurotransmitters. At the same time, it reduces cortisol, normalizes the stress response, and promotes mental clarity.
If you have any more questions about the connection between stress and health, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.