Stress Awareness Day: How Stress Affects Your Health

According to a 2014 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.  On this Stress Awareness Day, Resurgens Orthopaedics would like you to know that stress isn’t just a mental health issue; it can cause physical problems as well.  Your body responds to stress in a number of ways, and over time these reactions can lead to a host of health problems, especially when stress isn’t dealt with in a healthy way.  Here are some of the ways your body reacts to stress and the associated health problems.

The Fight or Flight Response

When your body experiences stress, it responds by activating the fight or flight response, a reaction designed to give you a burst of energy.  In the days when humans were forced to survive by evading predators, this would provide a temporary sense of heightened alertness that would be needed to escape from dangerous situations.  These days, the external stimuli that activate the fight or flight response tend to be a bit different.  Anxiety about upcoming events, big projects at work, or disagreements between friends and family can all activate the fight or flight response, and because these situations aren’t always easily or immediately resolved, that stress response can last for long periods of time.  So what happens inside your body when you experience stress?

Stress Awareness Day: How Stress Affects Your Health

High Blood Pressure

Stress sets off a chain reaction of brain chemicals which results in the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream.  One of the most immediate effects of cortisol is an increase in blood pressure, called hypertension.  As is the case with other conditions that cause hypertension, prolonged high blood pressure can lead to other problems like coronary artery disease, narrowing of the arteries, or even heart attack and stroke.

High Blood Sugar

The release of cortisol also causes a spike in blood sugar designed to provide a quick energy boost.  Unfortunately, frequent or prolonged stress can make high blood sugar a constant condition, causing symptoms much like those experienced by people with diabetes.  Over time, high blood sugar can lead to a number of conditions like nerve damage, damage to the eyes, blood vessels and kidneys, stomach and intestinal problems, and difficulty healing cuts or sores.

Suppressed Immune System

While the reasons for this response are not well understood, when cortisol comes into contact with immune cells, it suppresses their ability to communicate with one another.  This effectively reduces the body’s ability to fight infection.  Chronic stress can suppress the immune system for long periods of time, making you more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.

Chronic stress is a complex issue that affects many systems of the body.  These are just a few of the most dangerous side effects of chronic stress, so you can see why it’s important to be aware of the stress in your life and how it can be bad for your health.  It may not be easy, but finding healthy ways to de-stress in your everyday life can be a big help.  Whether you beat stress by reading a good book, by watching your favorite movie, or by trying out a new restaurant, remember that there’s more than one way to relax.  If stress is dominating your life, make your health a priority and find something that works for you.  Take it easy; your body will thank you!