Hidden Health Risks of Chronic Stress

stress, stress ball, chronic stressWhen you think of stress, what comes to mind?  Work deadlines? Managing a hectic schedule? Raising children?

The term “stress” simply equates to your body’s response to a stimulus, whether good or bad. Examples of good stress include the fight-or-flight response (also known as acute stress) or Eustress, the happy stress, such as weddings, getting a promotion, winning a game, etc.

Believe it or not, short periods of tension can actually be beneficial to people, sharpening their thinking and heightening physical response in situations where performance counts (think business meetings or athletic competitions).

It’s “bad stress” that develops into a health issue when it becomes chronic or long-term. Symptoms of chronic stress range from asthma and depression to migraines and diabetes and even to heart attacks or cancer.  The healthcare costs that come with these conditions can become a stressor in itself.

According to the American Institute of Stress, the top stressors for people in the United States are the future of our nation, money, and work.  These items affect over 60% of the population. Individuals who have experienced detrimental effects from chronic stress are typically those who are:

  • In unhealthy relationships
  • Suffering from an injury
  • Dealing with constant financial struggles
  • Employed in a hostile work environment
  • Mourning the loss of a loved one

How does stress cause so much physical harm?

In adults, at least, experts know that one route is its direct effect on the cardiovascular system. Lab studies confirm that blood pressure and heart rates rise in response to a stressor. Incidents of heart attacks also increase.

Another mechanism: the poor habits people readily adopt during periods of prolonged tension. “People who are under stress are more likely to gain weight and to smoke, and are less likely to sleep well or exercise,” which can lead to cardiovascular and other diseases, Bairey Merz says.

Researchers also blame stress’s ability to impede the delicate dance of chemicals that keep the body functioning smoothly. Recent studies especially implicate chemicals involved in fat storage, the immune system, and the longevity of cells themselves.

Among the most important findings for long-term health: 

One hormone that is released in response to a stressor is Cortisol.   Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands as a response to a stressor. Both acute and eustress release cortisol.  Chronically high levels of cortisol in the blood can have a myriad of negative effects. It is known to trigger insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Excess cortisol also affects the heart, can cause weight gain, and can even increase your risk for depression.  You can check your adrenal health with our Adrenal Fatigue Self Assessment Quiz.  There are natural ways to bring down your cortisol levels. Physical activity, meditation, laughter, music, and social activity are all known to bring down cortisol levels.

What you can do.

use the term “resilience” to describe how quickly people tend to recover from emotional setbacks, whether getting cut off in traffic or losing a job. The more resilient you are, the more you can limit the impact of stress on your health. Genetics play a small role in resilience, but practice and stress-release techniques will help greatly.

Finally, help your body function at its optimum level: Eat regular, balanced meals; aim for the recommended daily seven to nine hours of sleep for adults; and, especially, exercise 30 minutes each day. Even gentle walking is sufficient to boost mood and lower stress, according to the NIMH. More vigorous exercise may provide additional protection.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the symptoms of chronic stress and adrenal fatigue, give us a call today or request your complimentary consultation for guidance on the best plan of action for you and your family.

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Posted in: Adrenal Fatigue, Anxiety / Depression, Fatigue, Stress Management, Wellness

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