IS STRESS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH?
Stress. It’s a real party crasher. But does it do more damage than just causing us to mutter a few choice swears when someone puts an empty jar of peanut butter back in the cupboard? The answer is yes. Yes, it does. Not to sound dramatic, but stress is kind of a silent killer. Long-term exposure to chronic psychological stress is associated with numerous health problems. So if your life feels like a daily detour through stress-town, here are a few things that your body might be experiencing:
- Stress changes your gene activity. Stress doesn’t nip at the edges. It targets your body’s foundation for health: your genes. In a recent study, researchers found that chronic stress may actually change the gene expression of immune cells. These changes power up immune cells to fight infection or trauma--even when there is no infection or trauma to treat. This doesn’t earn your body the over-achiever gold star. Instead, it brings chronic inflammation.
- Stress increases inflammation, which attacks your arteries. Inflammation is like your body’s response to protect itself from harm. There can be an acute response, like a swollen ankle after an injury. Or there can be a chronic response, like what happens to arteries as a result of stress-induced inflammation. Inside your arteries, inflammation advances atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque). As plaque walls build up, they may rupture. Mixed with blood, it forms clots that block blood flow altogether. That’s a heart attack.
- Stress in middle age may damage your brain and lead to dementia. Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are now known to be associated with structural degeneration of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Your hippocampus is the area of your brain responsible for memory. Brain chemicals released in response to stress may actually shrink the hippocampus and over time cause cognitive decline.
- Stress often leads to insomnia, causing slow and sometimes instant damage. Stress makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Anyone have hours in bed staring at the ceiling while contemplating your task lists? Asking for a friend. It’s estimated that insomnia plagues 50 to 70 million Americans. And it’s actually a really big deal. Insufficient sleep is believed to increase the likelihood of obesity, diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, depression, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. It also most visibly leads to errors in judgment, like car crashes and other serious accidents.
- Stress can lead to stroke. Stress hormones tighten blood vessels. With a narrower path for blood to travel through, blood pressure increases. High blood pressure numbers aren’t like a PR on your FitBit. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke by damaging the brain’s blood vessels, causing rupture or leakage.
- Stress messes with your insulin response system. Stress causes your liver to release extra glucose into your bloodstream and throw your insulin response into whack. This increases your risk of accumulating extra body fat and diabetes.
- Stress makes your stomach hurt. According to Harvard Medical School, functional gastrointestinal disorders affect 35%-70% of people, women more often than men. While the disorders have no detected physical causes (like cancer or infection), they still result in bloating or pain. Numerous studies indicate that many of those incidences are actually related to stress. Our “fight or flight” response may be to thank for that. Dating back to our earliest years, our bodies figured out that it was not optimal to be in digestion mode when trying to run from a predator. Our gut still works that way today when it encounters a stressor, even when instead of a predator the threat is a bad boss, an overscheduled calendar, or that super judgy friend.
- Stress leads to toxicity. Studies have shown that your body’s enzymes that break down toxins are impaired by stress. Not only are you less able to get rid of the toxins, stress is also associated with increased consumption of toxins. Think of your interest in high fat, high sugar foods when you or stressed, not to mention alcohol, cigarettes or prescription drugs. So you take more in and then can’t get rid of them. That’s a stress double-down.
What’s important to know is that this list is not all-inclusive. Stress hurts your body in so many ways that we couldn’t fit it all into one blog. We’d have to do like a mini-blog series to address all the ways stress is undermining your health. In short, yes, stress is really bad for your health.
Henry David Thoreau said: “The price of anything is the amount of life you pay for it.” Our stress comes from many sources, some controllable and some not so controllable. But it’s worth reflecting on the price that you--that your body--is paying for the work, the schedules, the people, and the choices that cause you regular stress.Keep your eye out for our upcoming blog on how to reduce stress. And in the meantime, check out our functional protein blend BLISSED with Ayurvedic herbs, superfoods, supplements and power flowers to bust up stress and support bright and balanced moods. You can find BLISSED at WeAreWANNABE.com.