• Chronic Stress and the Effect It Has on Your Health

    by Caroline Ryther
    on Aug 7th, 2018

We’re exposed to stress almost on a daily basis, whether we’re aware of it or not. We stress out over a number of things, from unpleasant clients or coworkers at work, to changing jobs, moving houses, and deaths of our loved ones. If someone’s a bit more sensitive, they can even stress out over the fact that there’s no coffee at home or because they didn’t get to see their favorite TV show when they wanted to.

Naturally, the intensity will vary depending on the situation (stress caused by the death of a loved one will obviously have a greater impact on us than stress caused by something trivial such as a snide comment from a colleague), but the problem arises when our stress levels stay elevated far longer than they’re supposed to and when they begin to affect our health. This is what we call chronic stress and it’s the modern-day enemy of most adults.

In fact, 77% of adults in the United States will experience physical health problems due to stress in their lifetime, while 48% feel their stress has increased over the past five year. Chronic stress can cause a variety of issues when it comes to both our physical and mental health, and while the first symptoms are usually mild (headaches, fatigue, irritability, etc), they can turn into serious health problems in a short span of time.

Breathing and Heart Problems

Stress can affect both our respiratory and cardiovascular systems, causing us to have problems not only with our breathing, but also hearts.

While under stress, we tend to breathe faster in order to distribute oxygen-rich blood to our bodies as quickly as possible, causing us to experience shortness of breath. This can be especially troublesome for people who already have breathing disorders, such as asthma or emphysema.

Under stress, our hearts also pump a lot faster. Stress hormones directly affect our blood vessels, causing them to constrict and direct more oxygen to our muscles (your body believes that you’re under attack when it’s stressed out), and also effectively raising our blood pressure. As our blood pressure rises (which often occurs due to chronic stress), so do our chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.

Digestive Complications

A lot of times, stress hormones can affect the way food moves through our bodies. More often than not, people under stress will experience nausea, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea or constipation, or some combination of these five symptoms.

Another thing that happens to our bodies when they’re under stress is that the liver starts producing extra glucose (known as blood sugar) in order to give you an energy boost. Now picture this with your body under chronic stress—it may not be able to keep up with these heightened glucose levels and you risk developing type 2 diabetes.

In addition to all of this, faster breathing and heart palpitations can also upset our digestive system, causing us to have heartburn or acid reflux due to an increase in stomach acid. And while stress may not be the direct cause of ulcers, it can make our existing ulcers act up and increase our chances of getting new ones.

Constant Muscle Tension

Tense muscles are a common byproduct of stress, and we often experience back or shoulder pain, and headaches when we’re feeling particularly stressed out. In cases of chronic stress, our muscles never get a chance to relax and the only way to loosen them up is to turn to exercise and pain medication.

Sexual and Reproductive Troubles

People have been known to lose their sexual desire when under stress, because it’s exhausting both for our bodies and minds. However, the bigger issue here is that prolonged stress causes reproductive problems, especially for men. After a certain period of time, testosterone levels can begin to drop, which can affect sperm production and even be the cause of erectile dysfunction or impotence.

When it comes to women, chronic stress almost always affects their menstrual cycle, leading to irregular, more painful, and heavier periods. Stress hormones can also worsen the physical symptoms of menopause.

Weakened Immune System

Over time, stress can weaken our immune systems and make our bodies more vulnerable to foreign invaders. People who are constantly under stress are more susceptible not only to the flu and the common cold, but also a number of other viral infections. Plus, stress also slows down our recovery process after an illness or an injury.

If you believe that you’re experiencing chronic stress, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Best and his Neuroscience Center team, and schedule your consultation.

Contact us:

Phone: 847-306-8938

Email: pm@mind.md

Author Caroline Ryther

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