We are a stressed out nation, ladies and gentleman. The current state of high stress that we are living in (at least in my opinion) is largely responsible for all the negativity, the condemnation, and the vitriol that we see in the news and on social media each day.
Stress symptoms wreak havoc on both the mind and body. Therefore, stress management is not only vital for our emotional health but also for our physical health. Fortunately, lots of us have caught on to this and are seeking relief, as evidence by the people who are doing more yoga, meditating, exercising, practicing mindfulness, and flocking to spas like never before.
So let’s discuss the toll of stress, and why we all need a little more zen (also known as stress management).
Let us begin with a little refresher. What is stress, exactly? In the simplest terms, stress is the brain’s response to a demand. Not all stress is bad, as any bride planning a wedding can attest. Yet our stress response is innately designed to help us get through the difficult type of stress, from fleeing danger to coping with financial troubles or sickness, to dealing with a difficult boss. Each of us responds to stress in different ways, since each of us has a unique brain that tells our individual bodies how to respond. Some of us shut down, sleep more, become easily agitated or physically ill, while others may get nervous jitters, sweaty palms, or break out in hives.
The Physical Toll of Stress
What we do know for sure is that chronic stress does not do a body good. It can take a toll that may be irreparable. It has been shown that while you are under stress, your blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, breathing patterns change, immune system declines, muscles become tense, digestive system breaks down, sleep patterns are disrupted, and any existing health problems can become more aggravated. In other words, it’s not so much fun.
Right now you may be thinking, “all that, just from stress?” You betcha. Here’s a little more about the effect of stress on the body and mind:
Why We All Really Do Need a Little More Zen
Mental & Emotional Health
Ever wonder why you eat more junk food when you are stressed out? Studies show that chronic stress can compromise our decision-making ability, and can impair our ability to self-control. Stress fosters riskier behavior by reducing the ability to use restraint over our choices. When triggered by stress, an enzyme in the body attacks a synaptic regulatory molecule in the brain, one that controls our cognitive abilities. In turn, we may lose our social skills, becoming aloof, nasty, distracted, or even forgetful.
Actually, it has been proven that a neural mechanism in the body directly links repeated stress with an impaired memory. So if you want to remember the important details of your life, try to curb your stress levels if possible.
Stress can be the culprit of several dermatologic problems, including acne, brittle nails or even hair loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress is the most common cause of tension-type headaches and can trigger other types of headaches or make them worse.”
Chronic inflammation has been linked to all sorts of disease, as well as cancer of the lung, esophagus, cervix, and digestive tract. Chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. The effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.
Suffering from anxiety, depression, or having high levels of psychological distress could carry an increased risk of death from liver disease.
Cardiovascular Issues & Heart Health
Individuals who are under a high level of pressure at work have a substantially higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who are subjected to less stress at their workplace.
It’s not much of a surprise that hyperventilation is caused by stress and anxiety. What you may not know, however, is that hyperventilation can end up becoming its own disorder. Hyperventilation syndrome is a tendency to hyperventilate even without anxiety present, because the body has essentially learned to breathe incorrectly due to anxiety and stress.
Did you know that stress is a common asthma trigger? It’s true. Stress and anxiety can make you feel short of breath. This may cause asthma symptoms to become worse. It may also worsen symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Stress can produce rapid elevations in cholesterol levels. How crazy is that?
Esophogeal & Gastrointestinal Health
In addition to hyperventilating, it is commonly known that stress can affect the GI tract. The connection is so clear that patients who seek therapy for stress often see a reduction in GI symptoms. Stress can impair contractions of the stomach, induce inflammation and increase susceptibility to infection.
Several gastrointestinal disorders, such as: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and, food related adverse reactions, peptic ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can all be traced to stress related issues.
People who have “esophageal hypersensitivity” have more frequent and intense symptoms such as heartburn and chest pain. Stimuli that trigger symptoms could be mechanical, chemical, emotional, or some combination thereof. People who have stress-related affective disorders (such as depression and anxiety) tend to have a higher prevalence of esophageal hypersensitivity.
Fertility, Maternal Health & Health of Babies
Speaking of the effect of stress on self-control, mothers who quit smoking in pregnancy are more likely to light up again after their baby is born if they feel intense stress.
It has been known for quite some time that stress can affect fertility as well as the health of a baby. (This I know from personal experience as well.) Researchers found that intensely negative experiences in childhood can result in menstrual cycle irregularities, which consequently impact fertility. (Check.) Excessive stress can also result in preterm birth. (Check.) Sadly, preterm birth is the leading cause of death for children under the age of five, and babies who survive are at much higher risk of developing a number of health conditions, such as chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease and metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.
Women who experience stress during pregnancy are likely to have babies with a poor mix of intestinal microbiota and with a higher incidence of intestinal problems and allergic reactions. (Check.) Chronic maternal stress has been found to be associated with a higher prevalence of cavities among children. Chronic stress was also found to be linked to lower probabilities of breast feeding. (Check.)
Let’s start by stating that chronic stress alone does not cause cancer. However, it can interfere with the immune system’s response to cancer cells, which may increase the potential of metastasis, and cause neurochemical imbalance that may impact the survival of a patient with cancer. Many doctors around the globe are encouraging body-mind therapies to aid in the treatment of patients with cancer. Stress hormones often given to patients to treat the side effects of therapy may cause a subset of breast cancers to become treatment-resistant.
Now that you know the effects of stress on the body and mind, are you ready for a little zen too?
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