The dangers of stress are an exceedingly real and shockingly prevalent part of modern life. A decade ago, around 25% of Americans considered themselves to have unusually high levels of stress in their daily lives. In a Gallup poll released at the end of 2017, that number climbed dramatically to 79% of Americans!
How Stress Works
Stress can be caused by many different factors. Acute stress is a normal part of life. You might feel it after a fight with a significant other, a particularly hard commute to work, preparing for an interview, or before an important test.
Acute stress is temporary. It spikes and then fades – usually within minutes but sometimes lingers for a couple of days. It’s a survival mechanism known as the “fight or flight” response. It is called the fight or flight response because it prepares animals – and humans like you – to fight or run away from a threat.
It’s triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. Visual and auditory signals are sent to the emotional processing center of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala then sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the control center for involuntary activities in your body. The hypothalamus carries out the stress response by increasing your heart rate, dilating blood vessels, and increasing respiration and blood pressure.
Even though the original mechanism was designed to keep humans alive, humans have evolved to a point where the stress response can be activated in situations that aren’t life-threatening. Left unchecked, your body can get stuck in stress mode – this is referred to as chronic stress.
Chronic stress hangs around. It might initially be triggered by grief over the loss of a loved one, long-term financial difficulties, struggles with health, the end of a relationship, losing your job, or something similar. Typically a situation, shock, or trauma that takes a lot longer to overcome than a day or two.
While suffering from chronic stress, your body reacts the same way it does during episodes of acute stress. All those same reactions – increasing your heart rate, dilating blood vessels, and increasing respiration and blood pressure – turn on and just…never turn off.
The dangers of stress are well-researched and scientifically proven. Chronic stress can be very harmful to physical and psychological health. The inflammation resulting from chronic stress have been linked to some of the most serious diseases and conditions facing humankind.
Stress causes illness and can worsen conditions you already have. For instance, if you already have heart disease, chronic stress is going to aggravate this condition to truly dangerous levels.
7 Conditions Made Worse by the Dangers of Stress
- Heart disease: Stress actively increases your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also cause the release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream. This can lead to artery-clogging plaque deposits. The added stress on your cardiac system can cause atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke.
- Obesity: High levels of stress increase cortisol hormone levels within the body. Cortisol causes a spike in blood glucose levels. Continuously high levels of cortisol contribute to excess fat storage within the body.
- Chronic pain: Muscle tension is a part of the physiological stress response. Prolonged muscle tension can lead to chronic pain such as migraines, muscles spasms, and back pain that are not responsive to normal treatments for pain.
- Depression, anxiety, or other behavioral conditions: People who suffer from chronic stress also tend to suffer from anxiety. People living with high levels of stress are significantly more likely to develop a form of depression as well. If you have persistent stress, anxiety, and depression in your life, you are at greater risk for substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.
- Insomnia: People with high stress levels often have trouble sleeping. Sleep is facilitated by your parasympathetic nervous system also referred to as “rest and digest.” When the stress response is activated, it prevents the activation of the rest and digest portion of your autonomic nervous system. This makes it difficult for stressed people to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Gastrointestinal problems: Stress can cause several gastrointestinal problems such as chronic heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it shuts down blood flow to your digestive system. It also decreases secretion of digestive enzymes. Stress can cause inflammation and infection of the GI tract.
- Premature aging: The effects of stress wear down your body and damage cells. High levels of stress have been shown to age DNA of an individual 9-17% faster. An increase in wrinkles, gray hair, and weight fluctuation can often be traced back to stress levels in your life.
The dangers of stress can be avoided by identifying the stressors in your daily life, removing people or situations that cause stress, and limiting stress in every area possible. Always be aware of your personal stress levels and how it contributes to your decisions, health, and daily life.
Naturally, some stress-inducing people and situations cannot be removed or eliminated entirely. However, learning to limit your time in high-stress scenarios and/or controlling your own reactions to them has been shown to be incredibly helpful.
Get Healthier by Eliminating the Dangers of Stress
Healthy and natural ways to reduce stress are effective. In fact, lifestyle changes have been proven to have a greater impact on stress, emotional health, and quality of life than prescription drugs (the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know that).
By analyzing the source of the stress you feel in your life, you can determine what professional, emotional, and physical changes will do the greatest good.
9 Effective (Natural) Stress Relievers
- Listen to music
- Regular exercise
- Spend time with friends and loved ones
- Meditation, yoga, and tai chi
- Supplements such as magnesium and fish oil
- Remove toxic people from your life
- Make changes to a high-stress professional life
- Take up a relaxing hobby such as painting or writing
- Connect with nature
Reducing the dangers of stress is a proven way to drastically improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. Lowering stress lowers your risk of disease. If you wait, if you try to ignore stress, eventually, it will wear you down. It can even kill you.
Start today…remove the stress for a happier, healthier life!