Certainly, you've likely come across the idea that stress negatively impacts your well-being and can even play a role in the development of severe conditions such as heart disease. However, stress isn't solely a future concern; it can also exacerbate worsen health issues. When stress persists over an extended period, it has the potential to become chronic, unless proactive measures are taken. Furthermore, it's widely accepted that stress is a known contributor to illness, but what exactly is the specific way it impacts our health?
The Science of Stress
According to a survey published in March 2022 by the American Psychological Association (APA), 87 percent of adults agreed that the past two years have been marked by one crisis after another. Participants cited the war in Ukraine, inflation, and economic concerns as new stressors and the ongoing pandemic as a recurring one.
The impact of long-term stress, however, differs. According to Bert Uchino, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, who studies stress in aging populations., this persistent stress type can lead to bodily changes that are potentially harmful and may contribute to the development of certain illnesses. Blood tests can detect indicators such as inflammation, alterations in blood pressure, and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, all of which can serve as markers of chronic stress.
Continuously triggering the body's stress response and prolonged exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol can disturb almost every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. This elevated stress condition can make you more prone to a range of health problems, like anxiety, depression, digestive troubles, headaches, tense muscles, heart issues, high blood pressure, strokes, sleep disturbances, gaining weight, and difficulties with memory and focus.
According to Harvard Health, when you encounter something stressful, your brain starts the stress response. This process begins in the brain, where your eyes and ears send the information to a part called the amygdala, which deals with emotions. The amygdala looks at the sights and sounds and, if it senses danger, it quickly signals the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like a control center in the brain, and it talks to the rest of your body through the nervous system, giving you the energy to either fight the danger or run away from it.
In response to this situation, these glands release a hormone called epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline, into the bloodstream. When epinephrine travels through the body, it causes several physical changes. The heart starts to beat faster than usual, sending more blood to the muscles, heart, and essential organs. This leads to an increase in pulse rate and blood pressure. The person also begins to breathe more quickly, and the small airways in the lungs widen to let in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. This extra oxygen is sent to the brain, making the person more alert. Their senses, like sight and hearing, become sharper. At the same time, epinephrine prompts the release of stored blood sugar (glucose) and fats from the body, providing energy to all parts of the body.
When this situation goes on for a long period of time, as we all know, this can lead to several physical conditions. According to Medical News Today, researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing have discovered that when the body experiences stress, a protein called corticotropin-releasing factor receptor subtype 1 (CRF1) sends signals to certain immune cells. These signals make the immune cells release chemicals that can lead to various diseases, such as asthma, lupus, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In such situations, CRF1 instructs these cells to let out chemicals that can cause problems like inflammation, allergies, and illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, severe food allergies, and autoimmune conditions like lupus.
There's also a saying that stress can be a huge contributor to cancer. Breaking it down, stress can make your brain and body react with inflammation, and it can also make your adrenal glands release stress hormones called glucocorticoids. This can lead to various effects throughout your body. Some studies propose that excessive inflammation caused by ongoing stress might be why there's a connection between stress and cancer.
Knowing how big of an impact stress could affect your physical health, it is highly recommended for you to understand how to manage stress. If you feel like you need some help to sort out your stress management, do remember that you can always seek professional help.(HAI/tim)