Stress is a common and irritating part of your daily life. Nearly twenty-five percent of Americans suffer from abnormally high stress levels.
Stress is actually caused by a mammalian 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.
The Internal Process of Stress
This physiological stress response is due to 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.
The human body has evolved to activate the stress response in non-life threatening situations.
Family arguments, financial struggles, and job stress can all trigger your internal flight or fight response. Even though the original mechanism was designed to keep humans alive, chronic stress can be very harmful to physical and psychological health.
Here are a few health problems that are commonly caused – and made far worse – by levels of stress that continues for long periods of time. These health problems can be avoided by actively reducing your stress levels.
Seven Health Problems Attributed to 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: 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 consistent 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 percent faster. An increase in wrinkles, gray hair, and weight fluctuation can often be traced back to stress levels in your life.
These serious health risks can be avoided! Always be aware of your personal stress levels and how it contributes to your decisions, health, and daily life.
Preventing Stress Means a Healthier Life
There are several healthy and natural ways to reduce stress. 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.
Natural Stress Relievers
- Listening to music
- Regular exercise
- Spending time with friends and loved ones
- Meditation, yoga, and tai chi
- Supplements such as magnesium and fish oil
- Removing toxic people from your life
- Making changes to a high-stress professional life
- Taking up a relaxing hobby such as painting or writing
- Connecting with nature
Reducing your stress levels is a proven way to drastically improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. Don’t wait one more day…stress will kill you.
Evaluate, make a plan, and start getting stress out of your life right now!