[Printable Version of This Page]
Why Stress Can Kill You and What You Can do to Reduce It
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of our everyday life. Taking a few moments out to ponder over things that make you stressed and how this stress affects your health is vital for early diagnosis and prompt treatment of your body condition.
Be it family gatherings or gift-giving, do all of these holiday gatherings give you anxiety? Do the summer vacations relax you or worry you about your money expenditures and all the traveling cost? If you are experiencing anxiety about supposedly fun or relaxed things, then it might be possible that you are suffering from severe stress and it is high time to reassess your life.
Everyone gets the feeling of fear or stress from time to time in their lives. A sudden response to stress can give you a rush of power (called fight or flight reaction) when you might need it the most, for instance, competing in some sports, facing a dangerous situation, or working on an important project. Certain chemicals and hormones are released by the body when a person comes under stress to prepare the prompt action person. As the body shifts into a high alert situation, the level of sugar in the blood rises to provide the body with extra energy, your heart beats faster, the brain uses more oxygen, and your heartbeat quickens to cope with the fight-flight situation.
However, if the stress lasts longer, it may lead to the condition known as “chronic stress,” and the constant “high alert” changes start becoming harmful for the body. A leading stress researcher at Ohio University, Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, says that “stress visibly promotes higher production of inflammatory hormones and neurotransmitters, which contributes to a number of diseases relating to aging. Inflammation has a direct link to diabetes, frailty, arthritis, functional decline, cardiovascular diseases, and arthritis.”
Dr. Janice and other researchers find that stress affects the body’s immune system, which then ultimately weakens the body’s response to vaccines and there is impairment of wound healing. The research reveals that chronic stress is also linked to sleep difficulties, urinary problems, headaches, anxiety, depression, and digestive disorders. Dr. Paige Green McDonald, an expert on cancer biology and stress, says, “Some researches reveal that the emotional, social and physical effects of a disease like cancer and diabetes can be stressful for the long-term prognosis and survival.” She further adds, “However, there is no clear evidence that stress leads to cancer or has an association with how long a cancer patient survives after the diagnosis of the disease.”
The significant causes of stress in the U.S. are work-related pressures and money, according to the research survey of 2013 from the American psychological association. Stress can also result from major life changes such as divorce, losing a job, death of a loved one or an illness. Traumatic stress results from extreme events in one’s life, such as a natural disaster like a flood or hurricane, a major accident or exposure to violence. Taking care of a person with severe illness such as cancer or dementia can also be a potential stress source. The studies of Kiecolt-Glaser and other researchers - more than a decade ago - reveal that the caregivers’ stressful stipulations might lead to lower responses to vaccines, more than 60% higher death rate, and poorer health to non-caregivers.
It is not understood why some people can recover or sidestep more quickly from stress than others. Some of these resilient or strong-willed people seem to fight back more quickly from stressful situations. Advanced studies of animals reveal that resilience might at least partially depend on our genetic makeup. Moreover, learning more healthier ways to survive with stress can also boost your immunity and strong will. According to Kiecolt-Glaser, “There are several different ways to survive stress. We know from many different studies that having intimate personal relationships - people to talk to - with whom you can share your feelings can help reduce your stress. Spending time with friends and family is probably one of the most significant things that you can do to ease your anxiety and stress.”
Unluckily, Kiecolt-Glaser says, “When a person is in stressful situations, he tends to do the worst things that are not even helpful to his physical as well as mental health at all.” For example, people under acute stress might tend not to seek society’s support and usually isolate themselves from others.
Exercise is one of the most helpful things to reduce stress, but exercise becomes the least interesting and less common when people suffer from stress. Rather than maintaining a healthy diet, stressed-out people tend to eat more junk foods. You might wonder that the agitation resulting from stress might contribute to burn calories. But evidence shows that the opposite is more likely to occur. Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser and her team members find that when you compare healthy people to stressed people, the stressed ones are less likely to burn more calories after having high-fat meals.
In stressed people, there is more insulin hormone production, which contributes to the enhancement of more fat storage. Kiecolt-Glaser adds, “So stress might contribute to obesity and weight gain through some biological ways.” Getting proper nighttime sleep is also a key to stress relief and resilience, although stress might interfere with sleep. To improve your sleeping habits, try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning. Try to limit the use of light-emitting gadgets like smart-phones and computer screens before going to bed.
The light coming from electronic devices reduces the formation of a natural sleep-stimulating hormone known as melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Dr. Green McDonald says, “In addition to expert recommendations like light exercise, social contacts, and getting adequate sleep, studies have shown that other meditative exercises and mindfulness (focusing on your own emotions) can effectively help in relieving stress.” According to NIH psychologist Dr. Rezvan Ameli, a mindfulness practice specialist says mindfulness means staying conscious and aware of your life incidences. No matter what we are going through, we can always spare time to shift our focus to our breath and body to stay there for a fewer period of time. Recent studies reveal that even small periods of mindful attention can have a significant impact on your well-being and health.”
Other studies running under NIH funds also show that mindful meditation can relieve stress, positively affect the immune system, and alter brain function in positive ways. Ameli says, “Mindfulness is an effective and simple tool that anybody can practice to reduce stress.” Although the idea is so simple and becoming more popular, mindfulness needs practice and commitment; you can always learn more about mindfulness meditation. The local resources of mindfulness meditation include books, mindfulness-based stress-reduction programs, yoga, and meditation classes. If you feel swamped with stress, you must talk with a healthcare professional or a mental health professional to seek help. Therapies or medications might help you to survive stress. In the longer run, lowering pressure might help you take a break, enjoy the time with your people, and start caring about the things you like.
Wise Choices to Reduce Stress:
- Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes daily. You can simply walk or do exercise at home or at a gym near you.
- Get enough sleep.
- Start thinking positively and ignore the negativity around you to keep peace within your life.
- Seek medical help - if your stress is really getting out of your hands by contacting a mental health specialist.
- Build a social network for support to feel belonged and avoid isolating yourself from others.
- Set priorities and make a routine of your daily tasks of the day.
- Try some relaxation methods such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi to ease your stress anxiety.