Everyone experiences stress. Sometimes it’s temporary (acute), and sometimes it’s long-term (chronic).
Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to a potential threat. Then, when the “threat” (or stressor) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.
It’s the chronic stress that’s a problem. In other words, it’s when these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day, that it starts to mess with your health. And since so many of us feel stressed on a regular basis, we have started to normalize it rather than prioritizing taking action to manage it to that happy medium.
Stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health. So, making stress reduction a priority is key. Read on to learn more about the health effects of stress as well as stress-busting tips you can implement today.
Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed front and center.
Stress increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood “thickness,” as well as impacting how well your cells respond to insulin.
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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.
The stress hormone, cortisol, can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as “intestinal permeability.” Excess cortisol causes the tight junctions between the cells in your digestive lining to loosen, creating tiny holes. These “leaks” can allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body.
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 through. Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!
Stress and sleep 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. Can you:
- 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.
There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it. You can do it!