Stress… We all know it well. We live in an extremely high stress, highly stimulating world that causes mental, emotional and physical stress on your body. Why? Because of our good old pal, evolution. Stress is a mechanism that served as our body’s survival mechanism when faced with a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium.
What does that mean? It means your body developed such that if you were walking in the woods gathering berries for your clan, and stumbled upon a bear who was also gathering berries, your body had a way to get up and go, to try to stay alive. But in 2016, it’s less and less common to encounter these acute stressors. Acute stressors stimulate your adrenaline and occur based on a unique situation. However, more often we experience chronic stress. Chronic stress is persistent over time and comes in forms like…not knowing if you’ll be able to make rent that month, or how you are going to afford sports for your kids. These stressors are constantly on your mind, persistent, and actually really harmful to your health. Stress can basically worsen any health condition you already have, and also makes you more likely to contract other chronic health issues. Let’s talk about some stress- related health problems that you have the power to fix.
10 Stress-Related Health Problems
- Heart Disease: It’s no coincidence that heart disease is a leading cause of death in the US (think obesity, stress, lack of nutrition….). Stress has a big part in this. Remember the bear? Your body’s reaction in this case is to get your blood pumping, and fast, so you have the ability to recruit your body’s muscles to fight or fly. This same physiological reaction happens whether you are facing a bear, or pissed in traffic. This kind of reaction is not meant to be persistent over time. As a result, your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood flow, and heart rate are impacted which increase the likelihood of heart disease or a heart attack.
- Asthma: Weird one, right? There is not much known as far as causation, however it is important to note that a parent who experiences chronic stress is more likely to have a child that has asthma. Stress also worsens (exacerbates) asthma in people who already have the condition.
- Obesity: Stress causes higher levels of the hormone cortisol (associated with adrenaline and increases your blood sugar), which can lead to higher fat deposits in the abdomen. Fat in the abdomen is the most unhealthy part of the body to carry fat, resulting in increased BMI. Also, a lot of people use food as a coping mechanism to stress, which does not help the waistline any.
- Diabetes: This is closely related to the obesity issue, but further, stress alone can raise glucose levels in those who have type 2 diabetes.
- Headaches: Stress is the most common cause of both tension headaches and migraines
- Depression & Anxiety: This is not surprising, but it is shocking how closely stress is related to depression and anxiety. Chronic stress is related to depression in an estimated 80% of cases.
- Stomach problems: Though stress doesn’t cause ulcers, it can make them worse. It can also result in reflux and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Alzheimer’s: This correlation is newly emerging, but animal studies show that chronic stress may cause brain legions to form more quickly. Humans with Alzheimer’s appear to have slowed disease progression when stress is lowered.
- Stress Ages You: Chronic stress quickens the rate that your body ages. Think of presidents just for example, they serve for 8 years at most, but often appear to have aged about 20 years during their term. No matter who you are, stress is NOT a good look for you.
- Premature Death: Chronic stress does indeed take time off of your life.
Don’t let this stress you out about your stress
Now, don’t let yourself get stressed about thinking that your stress is killing you slowly and painfully, but rather let it give you the tools and the motivation to turn things around, and get control over your stress. My previous post on mindfulness, mediation, and yoga can be a good starting point. Gaining awareness of a situation is often the biggest battle. I encourage you to think about your sources of stress, and think about whether they are reasonable stressors, or if there would be more productive things for you to focus your energy on. Transforming your stress into positive energy takes all the negative effects we’ve covered, and turns them into the positive outcomes I discuss in the Mindfulness post. It is important to realize that you as an individual, have ultimate control over your attitude, energy, and behavior. The choices you make in this realm, turn outward into your physical health, and the interactions you have in the world. It’s really powerful stuff.
Here are some other sources that cover this topic: