Stress: The Silent Killer

Did you know that your body’s response to stress can make you seriously ill and take years off your life?

Stress plays a powerful role in the development or worsening of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, as well as diabetes, dementia, anxiety, and depression. Everyone experiences stress in their life but managing the potency of stress is essential to a long and healthy life.

Stress is considered a measure of your mental and physical resistance to circumstances beyond your control. A stressor is any threat, demand, or change that you attach special importance to, or that you struggle with or feel uncertainty about. Common major stressors are the death of a loved one, a relationship ending, financial distress, being overworked at your job, or overwhelmed with chores or a busy schedule.

Stress causes stress hormones to flood your bloodstream so that your body can respond quickly to a stressful situation. When something stressful happens, your pituitary gland discharges a hormone called ACTH into the bloodstream, which catalyzes the release of two hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epinephrine is commonly known as adrenalin, and prepares your body for emergency action. These hormones cause many physiological changes throughout the body such as an increased heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tension, and higher levels of fatty acids and blood sugar to be released to serve as immediate energy. In emergency situations, these physiological changes are necessary, but they happen anytime we feel stressed about a situation.

Long-term chronic stress, such as when dealing with a divorce, grief, or a terrible work situation, can cause your body to undergo a constant adrenaline rush. This causes damage to the tissues of the body, leading to inflammation. Heart disease, diabetes, and dementia are some of the diseases associated with inflammation. Under long-term stress, your body will adapt to a constant state of vigilance, pumping out an excess of the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, this will exhaust you, accelerate aging, harm your immune system, and can lead to memory loss and problems concentrating.

Stressful situations are often out of your control, but there are ways to manage and deal with the stress in your life for better health! Saying no to extra commitments, looking for a new job, or marital counseling could help if these are stressful components of your life. Adapting a “don’t sweat the small stuff” attitude is easier said than done, but recognizing the things in your life which bring you stress is an important first step!

Self-care is an important aspect of stress management. Taking time to eat nutritious meals, get enough sleep, and exercise are all beneficial. Watching a funny movie, reading a book, grabbing a coffee with a friend, or treating yourself to a massage can help you handle the little stressors and annoyances in life with a calmer mindset. Massage therapy can also help you recover from the long-term effects of stress in your life, by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing muscle tension, and leading to restful, restorative sleep.

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