About 2 months ago, I started to notice some changes in how I was feeling. I was having minor pains in my chest. It was only sporadic, so I didn’t think anything of it. Until about 1 week later, when it started getting stronger and more pronounced. I thought maybe I had a rib out or maybe it was just pain from a tough workout, but then the symptoms didn’t get better, they got worse. I would need to take deep breaths a lot and the only time if felt better was when I was sleeping. About another week later, My husband would notice me grabbing chest and I shared what was going on and he said “Teri, you have the exact symptoms of a women having a heart attack, I think you should go in” I said.. no…. I’m ok. If it doesn’t get better by the end of the week, I’ll go in. Well, now I was starting to get concerned and a little freaked out, so the next morning, I was training my clients of which a few are nurses.. and they advised me to go in and get checked. I bucked and grumbled…. But in the back of my mind, I was concerned enough to go in. I had never had this before, I felt off and it scared me.
Long story short, I went in to Urgent care, had an echo cardiogram, chest x-ray and the doctor came in to tell me that my heart was in perfect condition, the x-ray was just fine, the echo cardiogram was totally fine and my blood pressure was good. She asked me if I was stressed? I took a deep breath … and said… “Yes”.
Stress. It’ so powerful. Here I am a very healthy woman, who exercises and eats right and never gets sick… but… is having chest pain because of my stress level. What was even more eye opening to me was that I didn’t “think” I was that stressed, but…. I was “am”. It was THAT day I decided to manage my stress better, take some time to pray about the stressful items in my life, and ironically, within a day, I had no more discomfort. Part of the stress is the mental process you have to go through, thinking you might be having heart problems (or whatever health issue or stress you may be facing) … so it goes to show you that what we “think” is passed on to how our body operates.
Stress that is worrisome is chronic stress and it can affect you negatively in multiple ways.
Let’s Talk about the Stress Response and what It is.
Whenever your body is stressed, via mentally, physically or internally, it creates a “metabolic overdrive.” Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body. Blood pressure, breathing and heart rate increases. Glucose is released into the bloodstream for ready energy. Digestion, growth, reproduction and immune system functions are suppressed or put on hold. Blood flow to the skin is decreased and pain tolerance is increased.
The problem is, your body perceives distress in many different ways: Mental/Emotional, Physical/Biochemical and hormonally. So if any or all of these are out of balance, your system perceives it as a problem and reacts internally.
In todays fast pace world, we operate as if we’re in a constant, low-grade state of emergency, with no real end in sight. Many of us don’t physically dispel stress hormones or take the time to resolve the real problems. We don’t soothe ourselves or take the time to question our priorities.
SO HERE IS WHAT CHRONIC STRESS IS DOING!
It Suppresses Your Immune System
People are much more susceptible to infections and experience more severe symptoms when they come down with a cold or flu if they are stressed. Also unable to fight off infections as easily. If your body thinks it’s facing an immediate danger so chronic stress definitely dampens your immune system.
Stress contributes to inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been linked to a multitude of health conditions and diseases, from asthma and diabetes to cancer and heart disease.
Chronic Stress Causes Aging
The stress response turns off many physiological processes which include the lack of blood flow to the skin. That’s certainly going to affect how old you look.
Stress can affect the aging brain. We all lose brain cells as we age. Stress allows more toxins to cross the blood-brain barrier and cortisol damages the hippocampus, brain function, new learning and memory are greatly affected.
Another study found that hippocampus size was linked to the rate of progression in Alzheimer’s disease.
Chronic stress can also contribute to aging in terms of arthritis, cardiovascular disease and
It Contributes to Digestive Disorders and Weight Gain
Since digestion is also dialed down during the stress response, chronic stress can contribute to a variety of digestive disorders. Bloating, cramping, constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of chronic stress. So too, is acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome. Stress can worsen ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease.
Cortisol contributes to the accumulation of dangerous belly fat and worsens cravings for fat, salt and sugar. Eating unhealthy carbs can be soothing as this lessens the behavioral and hormonal imbalances associated with the stress response. Unfortunately, this behavior can become habitual and lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Now’s a good time to talk about the STRESS HORMONE CORTISOL
Cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid hormone in the body and often referred to as the key ‘stress hormone’ that helps maintain homeostasis by mediating various physiological responses that include:
- Regulating blood sugar levels
- Influencing macronutrient utilization to maintain blood glucose levels (e.g., stimulating gluconeogenesis)
- Fat deposition
- Having anti-inflammatory and some immuno-stabilizing effects
- Influencing hormonal and nerve system responses
As cortisol is our primary stress hormone, it responds during periods of stress (e.g., exercise, missed meals or starvation, following insufficient sleep), but returns to baseline when the stress is removed. However, with our continual exposure to psychological stress, this recovery or return to baseline may not occur. Health concerns exist, as seen in the chart below, with elevated levels of cortisol associated with chronic stress or from suppressed levels of cortisol. Levels generally fluctuate throughout the day, usually reaching the lowest levels 2 – 4 hours after falling asleep (e.g., 2 – 4 am) as we transition into deep sleep and reaches the highest levels in the hours immediately prior to waking (e.g., 6 – 7 am) as the body enters a prolonged fasted state and prepares itself to wake-up and increase metabolism.
Chart below: Effects of Elevated or Suppressed Cortisol Levels
Chronic Stress Affects Your Mood and Relationships
Constant stress can affect your sleep patterns, make you irritable and fatigued, unable to concentrate and highly reactive. You may become unable to relax and operate in a state of anxiety. Depression is a common reaction to chronic stress. All of these things can downgrade your quality of life and affect your relationships with others. Chronic stress is associated with feelings of helplessness and lack of control. Perfectionists are more likely to suffer from disrupted serotonin levels due to stress, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter in the brain.
Stress Increases Pain
Links between pain severity and chronic stress have been established with headaches, joint pain and muscle pain. Stress seems to intensify arthritis pain and back pain. Work stress is associated with backaches and stress increases the occurrence and severity of tension headaches.
Stress Affects Sexuality and Reproductive Functions
Chronic stress reduces sexual desire in women and can contribute to erectile dysfunction in men. Chronic stress is linked to premenstrual syndrome severity and can affect fertility in women. Stress during pregnancy is linked to higher rates of premature birth and miscarriage. Stress during pregnancy may also affect how infants themselves react to stress after birth. Chronic stress can also worsen hormonally-based mood changes that accompany menopause.
Chronic Stress Affects Your Skin, Hair and Teeth
Hormonal imbalances due to stress and the fact that blood flow to the skin is reduced during the stress response can negatively affect your skin, hair and teeth. Eczema is a common reaction to stress. Acne, hives, psoriasis and rosacea have also been linked to stress. Hair loss and gum disease have also been linked to stress.
Stress Increases Risk of Heart Attack, Heart Disease, Stroke and High Blood Pressure
A direct link between chronic stress and increased risk for heart attack, heart disease and stroke has not yet been established by researchers. What chronic stress does do, reports UMMC, is worsen risk factors for these conditions.
Stress increases your heart rate and force, constricts your arteries and affects heart rhythms. It thickens the blood plus increased blood pressure is also a risk factor for stroke.
Take Care of Your Stress
Just like what happened to me… it will catch up with you. I’m lucky I had a warning and my body gave me a signal to slow down. We better start listening or we will end up struggling with many of the illnesses, some of which are very difficult to reverse.
You will never be able to eliminate “ALL” stress from our life, that is unrealistic. But, you can practice stress management, take care of your health and work on your mind/body connection.
Plenty of research has found that stress management and relaxation techniques can help you become more able to adapt to stressful events, more efficient in functioning during stress and better able to recover from stress. Schedule weekly “you time”. Engaging in an activity that you love and enjoy that does not cause you anything but enjoyment. Laugh often too. Pray and take time to enjoy the outdoors. Much of chronic stress has to do with feeling out of control or helpless.
- Stress is normal but too much is very harmful.
- You CAN learn how to better manage stress.
- Chronic stress can affect every physical and psychological system.
PART TWO, I WILL EXPLAIN HOW YOU CAN CONTROL YOUR STRESS AND THE BENEFITS IT HAS ON YOUR ENTIRE BODY.
Stress, Consequences and Overall Health – Fabio Comana