When we feel stress emotionally and mentally, the body responds to that stress. The fight or flight response proves this with natural signs of increasing blood pressure, pulse increase, faster breathing, constricted blood vessels and a flooding of adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. It’s not a problem until our body undergoes that state on a regular basis. This is known as chronic stress and it can lead to a number of health issues.
Recent studies have found astonishing links between stress and health conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, headaches, migraines, depression, insomnia, poor immune function, gastrointestinal issues and inflammation. Here’s why…
Diabetes – Stress can help cause and worsen diabetes because it has an emotional impact, making one more likely to eat excessively or unhealthy and to drink excessively. Physically, stress also seems to raise glucose levels of those who have type 2 diabetes.
Alzheimer’s Disease – Some scientists believe that stress can increase the progression of Alzheimer’s disease due to brain lesions forming more quickly.
Heart Disease – Chronic stress seems to increase white blood cells in the body, which can cause plaque build up in the arteries. According to a study published in Nature Medicine, this happens because cortisol, which is also increased in the body during stress, changes the texture of white blood cells and encourages them to attach to the walls of blood vessels.
Obesity – Stress increases the level of the hormone cortisol in the body, which seems to increase the amount of fat that develops in the stomach region. It also increases our cravings for foods that make us fat, such as sugary, starchy and fatty foods. Furthermore, it seems to affect metabolism and keep people from burning as many calories, while at the same time promoting fat storage by creating a rise in insulin levels and a fall in fat oxidation levels.
Headaches & Migraines – While it isn’t clear why, stress is a common trigger for headaches and migraines.
Depression – Chronic stress is linked with depression, and according to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stressful life situations can increase the risk of depression if a person isn’t able to cope well with their stress.
Insomnia – Of course, when we are stressed, the quality of our sleep suffers. We either lay awake worrying about things or we fall asleep and then have trouble getting back to sleep. Lack of sleep then makes it easier for us to feel stressed, which further exasperates the problem.
Immune Function – Stress seems to inhibit the immune response, making it take longer to heal from colds, flus, wounds and other health issues, and making it easier to fall ill to begin with.
Gastrointestinal Issues – Stress can be a trigger for GI conditions like heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Some theories as to why this is true hold that stress causes an imbalance of the bacteria in the gut as a result of poor immune function caused by stress.
Inflammation – Stress increases inflammation in the body because it releases cortisol, which when working properly helps to reduce inflammation, but when too much cortisol is released, the body becomes desensitized to cortisol, which actually causes inflammation to increase. Inflammation is a known cause for numerous health conditions, leading to chronic pain and disease.
Practice Deep Breathing & Relaxation – This method can be done anywhere at any time. Simply breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. As you exhale, focus on relaxing one part of the body, such as the jaw. Then continue to move down the body focusing on relaxing a different part with each breath.
Remember It’s All A Matter of Perspective – Some people become stressed in situations in which other people wouldn’t. That means that it’s all about perspective. Try to remember that when you’re feeling stressed and then try to see the situation from a different perspective.
Exercise – Regular physical activity helps to boost serotonin levels, which helps us to feel better and be in a better mood, which then helps us to naturally handle stress with more ease. Plus, a good workout can help burn off some steam.
Meditation – Meditation has been scientifically proven to change the activity of the brain, which helps us approach life from a more relaxed standpoint. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has been shown to reduce anxiety and social anxiety.
Yoga & Tai Chi – Yoga and tai chi are not only great exercises for the body, they also help calm the mind, which reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.
Watch Your Diet – There are certain foods that can enhance the stress effect and there are others that can help alleviate it. Try eating healthy high fiber carb-rich foods like sweet potatoes or sautéed vegetables over rice to feel their relaxing qualities. Avoid high-fat foods, caffeine and sugar, all of which can make you feel either lethargic or jittery, both of which will only add to your stress response.
Improve Your Sleep – Poor sleep only makes stress worse and it can feel like a never-ending cycle that can be hard to break. That’s why taking steps to improve your sleep is important. It can help your body and mind handle stress with more ease, so you can send it packing. Try these tips for better sleep.
Look for Symptoms of Stress – Don’t wait until stress shows up as a chronic disease! Recognize the signs beforehand so you can work to reduce the stress that is causing them. According to the Mayo Clinic, some stress symptoms might include headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, stomach upset, sleep issues, feelings of anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, sadness or depression, overeating or undereating, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, and social withdrawal.