If you are constantly under pressure, you should be aware that there are several different ways stress is hurting your health. Stress is a natural response to a perceived threat. During a stressful situation the fight-or-flight response kicks in, and adrenaline and cortisol are released by your adrenal glands. The adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and energy supplies, and the cortisol increases brain levels of glucose and substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also decreases functions not deemed necessary in an emergency situation. Normally, this is not a problem because cortisol levels and adrenaline levels decrease when the threat is gone. However, if you are constantly under stress from your job or home life these levels don’t return to normal, which is why there are many ways stress is hurting your health.
1. Decreased Immune Function
One of the ways stress is hurting your health is by decreasing your immune function. When cortisol levels surge, the immune system is one of one of the systems that is suppressed. To demonstrate this, a simple study was conducted on college students showing that their T-cell levels, the cells that destroy invaders like viruses, decreased during a stressful exam. If just a short event like an exam can decrease important immune cells, just think what chronic everyday stress will do. It will definitely make you much more likely to get sick.
2. Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Stress leads to several different problems that can increase your risk of developing heart disease. It increases levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, and if C-reactive protein levels remain elevated, chronic inflammation can develop and lead to heart disease later in life. Aside from increasing C-reactive protein, stress changes the way in which blood clots, putting you at a greater risk for a heart attack. Stress can also accelerate atherosclerosis, and in rare, severe cases lead to a myocardial infarction due to excessive release of norepinephrine at myocardial endings.
3. High Blood Pressure
When the fight-or-flight response kicks in during stressful situations, adrenaline raises your blood pressure. If you experience stress that raises your blood pressure on a daily basis, you could be at risk for developing chronic high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts you at risk for a stroke as well as a heart attack. So, those little spikes in blood pressure may not seem like a big deal, but over time they can be.
4. Increased Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a chronic bowel disorder that can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and intestinal cramping. It is a miserable disorder to have, and stress can make IBS worse. During the stress response, the digestive system is another system cortisol suppresses, which causes problems for people with IBS. Additionally, in stressful events chemical stress mediators are released, altering the way the brain and gut interact. This altered interaction worsens IBS symptoms.
5. Increased Risk of Infertility
One of the lesser known effects of stress is the harm it does to reproductive health. Stress reduces estrogen secretion, which reduces the thickness of the endometrium. It reduces secretion of progesterone as well, which negatively impacts the implantation of an egg. The luteinizing hormone that is responsible for ovulation is also affected by stress. Clearly, stress can wreak havoc on a woman’s hormone levels, resulting in infertility or, at the very least, irregular periods.
6. Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating, and if it is bad enough people can become homebound. Chronic pain can be caused by a variety of factors, such as acute injury; however, stress can also precipitate chronic pain. Stress increases muscle tension, which can lead to chronic pain over long periods of time. It also increases inflammation in the body. We already know this can lead to heart disease, but it can also lead to chronic pain.
7. High Blood Sugar
During a stressful situation cortisol increases blood sugar levels to give you energy for action. Usually, blood sugar levels return to normal once the stressful situation has resolved. However, chronic stress does not allow blood sugar levels to normalize, which can lead to consistent high blood sugar levels. Having high blood sugar puts you at risk for diabetes.
Chronic stress is very common in the busy world we all live in. Even though it is common, stress can cause serious health problems and should not be taken lightly. Taking steps to reduce stress is very important. Meditation and yoga are two very effective ways to reduce stress. What do you do to reduce your stress levels?