The stress response is a signal to the brain and body that helps us identify psychological and physiological issues. In short bursts, it can be beneficial as a safeguard against impending danger, but when left unchecked, its continuous presence has a detrimental effect. Here are five surprising ways chronic stress can negatively affect the body.
- Alters Digestive System: The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” for the way it impacts mental and physical well-being. Chronic stress shows short and long-term effects on gut health, from a less efficient immune system to a heightened risk of digestive disorders including: Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea and food allergies.
- Causes Weight Gain: Chronic stress has been linked to biochemical changes in the body that trigger cravings, change digestion and increase appetite. Pairing our bodies' natural desire for comfort foods with the convenience of drive-thru restaurants and processed meals is a recipe for disaster under stressful circumstances.
- Impacts Heart Health: Researchers have found that chronic stress may pose a risk for heart disease, the leading killer of men and women in America. Not only can it contribute to a rise in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it may lead to overeating and inactivity. Interestingly enough, laughter and happiness can lower your blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
- Induces Depression/Anxiety: An anxiety disorder can occur when the symptoms of stress continue after the stressor, or perceived threat, is gone. It can also lead to depression if feelings of anxiousness or irritability become suppressed or are unresolved for long periods of time. Viable treatment options include psychotherapy and medication.
- Worsens Diabetes: The American Diabetes Association shares stress can cause or worsen cases of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes by raising blood sugar levels, activating fat cells and increasing blood pressure. It also contributes to insulin resistance, making it more difficult for the pancreas to secrete insulin.
Stress Reduction Techniques
The key to managing stress is setting realistic goals and adapting a healthier lifestyle. That includes eating nutrient-rich foods and exercising regularly, which can decrease blood pressure and improve your mood. It’s also important to reset and recharge the body with a proper amount of rest. Taking time to relax can restore emotional well-being, boost critical thinking and reduce the production of stress hormones. Simple methods include:
Stress management is an ongoing process that requires a full commitment. If it feels beyond one’s control, contact a primary care physician for additional treatment options. If you found this post helpful, you might also enjoy:
- The Importance of Being Connected
- Chronic Conditions and Heart Disease
- Just Breathe: Go from Stressed to Serene
About the author: Dr. Duane J. DiFranco, MD is vice president of Medicare Stars and Clinical Performance at Emergent Holdings, a subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health and stress management tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org and AHealthierMichigan.org/podcast. Photo credit: Rawpixel