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‘s your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and it can even save your life (for example, when a deer jumps in front of your car, and you swerve to avoid hitting it). When the “threat” (the “stressor”) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.
Your body has specific stress reactions, however. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that’s called chronic stress and along with your stress hormones can have a huge impact on your health.
So let’s dive into the “stress mess.”
Mess #1 – Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed.
Stress increases 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
Have you noticed that you get sick more often when you’re stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores or even the flu more frequently.
That’s because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells. Consequently, they’re less able to do their jobs effectively.
Mess #3 – “Leaky Gut”
Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as “intestinal permeability.” These “leaks” may allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body.
The stress hormone cortisol may open up these tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have on each other.
Picture this: Have you ever played the game “red rover?” It’s where a row of children hold hands, while one runs at them trying to break through the row. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to filter in that should not be passing 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 your 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 favors.
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?
- make that decision, finally?
No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. 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, listen to soothing music)
- Exercise (yoga, tai chi, for example)
- 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.
While it’s true that stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep, by following the suggestions above, you can both reduce stressors and improve your response to them.
You can ditch that stress mess!
Please comment below, and let us know what your tips are for easing stress. We’d love to hear from you.