Can Stress be Making you Sick?
Are you stressed? It seems like a simple question, but it may be more complicated than you might think.
When asked, “Are you stressed?”, the initial response may be a hesitant “no”. There is a slight stigma attached to feeling stressed, especially in our very-busy-get-it-done culture. In fact, the body does such a great job regulating your systems, you may not even realize you are stressed!
Many things can cause stress, from minor problems like a traffic jam, to major events like a divorce or death in the family. Stress is inevitable, how we deal with it is what we can control.
Three types of stress
Acute, Episodic acute, and Chronic
Acute stress is the most common, and tends to last just a short while. It affects the typical person multiple times throughout the day. Examples of this could be a traffic jam causing you to be late to work, or the alarm clock going off in the morning.
Episodic acute stress tends to have more triggers to cause it to occur. This can be things like overscheduling your day, or constantly worrying about things you have no control over.
Chronic stress is the one we must be most concerned about. This is the stress that will wreak havoc on your system. People may actually grow accustomed to this type of stress, leading it to go unnoticed for a while. It may even begin to produce a negative mindset, whereas the person will actually begin to allow or seek out negative situations or people, or making them more vulnerable to negative consequences or situations.
There can be both internal AND external stressors. Internal stressors are things like negative self talk, constant worrying, or unrealistic expectations. External stressors come from the outside, and are typically situational such as work, school, home expectations, finances.
So, why should you even care about stress?
The toll that stress can take on the body is significant. When the body is under stress, this is the typical internal response:
- The body is saturated with sugar for instant energy.
- Hormones are released, causing the heart to beat more quickly and the arteries to constrict.
- The body receives more oxygen as a result, which assists with energy production.
- Both the threat and the tension are eliminated.
- The body resumes its typical functioning as hormone levels return to normal.
But what happens when this stress cycle never turns off? The physical symptoms of stress can be masked in every day problems that seem "normal" to a busy woman, such as:
- High BP
- Body aches
- Muscle tension
- Upset stomach (either nausea or diarrhea)
Virtually ALL of our body systems are affected by chronic stress.
- Mental health (which can be seen as changes in our behavior, emotions or focus)
- Muskuloskeletal system (with stress, the muscles contract, leading to chronic tension in the neck and back, and occasionally leading to migraines)
- Nervous system (the body shifts its energy resources to fighting off the perceived threat, the "fight or flight" response. Our sympathetic nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones make the heart beat faster, raise blood pressure, change the digestive process and boost glucose levels in the bloodstream)
- GI System (May change your eating patterns significantly - eating much more or less than usual, leading to heartburn or acid reflux. It affects digestion and which nutrients it will absorb, as well as your motility of bowels - may experience diarrhea or constipation)
- Respiratory (Causes you to breath harder/faster, which can lead to hyperventilation and induce panic attacks)
- Cardiovascular (Repeated episodes of acute stress can lead to inflammation of the coronary arteries, which can predispose you to a heart attack)
- Endocrine (stress induces increased cortisol and epinephrine, which then induces the liver to produce more glucose)
8 Tips to Manage Stress
Here are some simple tips to help manage your stress levels. These are great options to include on a regular basis, and can take as little as 5 minutes to complete.
- Practice self care (developing routines that make time for yourself)
- Exercise on a regular basis (can be as simple as a long walk)
- Practice yoga
- Read a book
- Getting Adequate sleep (recommended 7-9 hours each night)
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Listen to a podcast
- Create a journal
The bottom line is that we cannot always remove external stressors, but we can learn to manage our stressors more effectively to offset the negative impact it will have on our body.
If you are interested in learning more about stress, and how to learn simple techniques to manage the monster, check out my Total Health program. Stress management is one of my core pillars because it plays such a critical role in our total well being.
Cheers to your health!