Is Stress Tearing You Apart?

We’ve all heard that prolonged stress is bad for us, but do you know how bad? When stress is experienced in short, functional bursts – as it was biologically designed to – such as in the case of an emergency situation, it can help us to get out of a tight jam with heightened alertness and a sense of urgency.

When stress becomes prolonged, however, and the body is not allowed a chance to relax and let its guard down, it can lead to system-wide disarray. The main reason for this is that chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation, which is now widely recognized as an underlying factor in many diseases.

The following is a look at how chronic stress can affect several vital body systems.

Immune system

When we become stressed, we experience a spike in cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” and when it is elevated, it signals the immune system to temporarily shut down. When this “shut-down” extends for a long period of time, it leaves the body vulnerable to infection. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that stress leads to fewer “killer” immune system cells available to fight invading pathogens.

Cardiovascular system

In the face of a stressful situation, you feel your heart racing and your muscles tensing. While this is fine in the short-term (unless you have a heart condition or certain other medical conditions), when it becomes a chronic reaction, it may eventually lead to elevated blood pressure. The inflammation that goes hand in hand with stress may also raise your risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke.

Furthermore, for many people, being in a constant state of stress leads to the search for external stimuli to relieve the stress, and some turn to behaviors such as snacking on junk foods, drinking an excess of alcohol or smoking cigarettes. These detrimental habits further elevate your risk of serious health problems, including cardiovascular issues.

Digestive system

Many people feel nausea or stomach discomfort when they are stressed out. If this becomes chronic, these feelings can become chronic too, and it can have an impact on your eating habits. Some people overeat under stress, and others undereat. Chronic stress may also weaken your metabolism, so you may become more susceptible to weight gain.

Stress can also lead to bowel discomfort, such as constipation or diarrhea. If your eating habits change drastically due to stress, it may also lead to heartburn or acid reflux. If you are stressed for a long period of time, you may develop stomach ulcers, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Nervous system

The nervous system, as it is responsible for communication between all of the body’s systems, is especially sensitive to stress. Chronic stress may lead to all sorts of psychological imbalances, including anxiety, depression and insomnia. We all know that sleep is essential to good health; if you experience insomnia and do not get adequate sleep, it significantly increases your risk of many chronic illnesses.

On top of that, stress has been linked to impaired cognitive function; it is hard to focus, absorb information or think clearly when under stress.

Respiratory system

In the short term, elevated stress can lead to shallow, rapid breathing, and even hyperventilation. If this becomes chronic, it may lead to panic attacks, or potentially even asthma attacks. If you have an existing lung condition, these effects of stress can be especially dangerous.

Also, the chronic inflammation that accompanies stress leaves you more susceptible to respiratory and sinus infections.

slow downThe bottom line is that finding a way to manage your stress is absolutely essential to the functioning of your entire body, as well as to your mental and emotional health. Meditation – even five minutes per day – can work wonders for many people, as it helps you to let go of past or future worries and focus on the here and now.

Exercise is another great stress-buster. When you exercise, your body sends a flood of feel-good chemicals through your brain, boosting your mood, and simultaneously energizing and relaxing you. It also helps with proper sleep, which is also paramount in stress reduction.

If you find yourself in a perpetual state of worry and nothing seems to help, take the time to seek out a counselor you can trust, to work through the cause of your stress so that you can take your hand off the panic button, and start to fully enjoy your life.

-The Alternative Daily


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