The Stress Mess: How Stress Messes with Your Health
This blog post will discuss stress and can apply at any time of the year but the last couple of weeks, which are supposed to be full of merriment and time with friends, family and loved ones, can be particularly stressful.
Sometimes because we’ve got so much extra to do and we want it to all be so perfect. Perfect being some arbitrary standard we set ourselves. Or we don’t have much going on and rather than appreciate the quiet time we have to reflect and rejuvenate we convince ourselves that everyone is having a wonderful, fun time with masses of company and somehow, we’re missing out!
We all have some level of stress, right? It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).
Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving. Something happens that signals danger to our body and a reaction occurs which means we’re primed for flight or fight.
Then, when the “threat” (a.k.a. “stressor”) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.
It’s the chronic stress that’s a problem. You see, your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that can mess with your health.
Stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health.
Let’s dive into the “stress mess.”
Mess #1 – Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Let’s not save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed.
Stress increased the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood “thickness,” as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.
Mess #2 – Immunity
Did you notice that you get sick more often when you’re stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed?
Well, that’s because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.
Mess #3 – “Leaky Gut.”
Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as “intestinal permeability.” These “leaks” can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body
The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other.
Picture this: Have you ever played “red rover?” It’s where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should be passing right though. Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!
Mess #4 – Sleep Disruption
Stress and sleeplessness go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.
And when you don’t get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood.
More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health. Not enough sleep (and too much stress) aren’t doing you any favours.
Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step.
- Put less pressure on yourself?
- Ask for help?
- Say “no”?
- Delegate to someone else?
- Finally, make that decision?
No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:
- Deep breathing
- Walk in nature
- Unplug (read a book, take a bath)
- Exercise (yoga, tai chi, etc.)
- Connect with loved ones
Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize.
Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep.
Although there are strategies to help reduce the stress in your life there will always be some things you have no control over. But you do have control over your reaction to stressful situations and that can make a big difference in your body’s stress response.