We all have some level of stress, right?
It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).
Acute stress usually won’t affect your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving.
Then, when the “threat” (a.k.a. “stressor”) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.
It is the chronic stress that is 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. Here we dive into the "stress mess", that is consequences of long-term stressors on your body and mind.
Mess #1 - 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.
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 are stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed?
Well, that is 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 through. Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!
Mess #4 - Sleep Disruption
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?
Delegate to someone else?
Finally, make that decision?
Take time to reflect on these questions. As pointed above, unaddressed stress has devastating consequences and some changes have to take place to reduce stressors.
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:
Walk in nature
Unplug (read a book, take a bath)
Exercise (yoga, tai chi, etc.)
Connect with loved ones
Taking time to develop stress-management strategies is of utmost importance and should not be taken lightly. Make it a concerted effort!
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 important lifestyle strategies you can implement to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.
It is up to you to ditch that stress mess!