How Chronic Stress May Be Effecting Your Health
We’ve all felt stress at one time or another – from cramming for midterms in college to that major presentation you have to give at work tomorrow – it comes naturally and may not necessarily be a bad thing in some cases. In other cases, chronic stress can lead to numerous negative effects on your body.
Stress is your body’s response to hormones that are being released, which increases both your heart and breathing rate. This response can be weakened by using cannabis to destress and relax. As this happens, your brain receives more oxygen which helps you stay focused and complete the task at hand. In this case, short-term stress can positively benefit you. But other forms of stress that can be triggered by pressure, trauma and other negative life effects, can affect your overall health and well-being. Here is how chronic stress can affect your major body systems:
Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems
Your central nervous system, which is in charge of your “fight or flight” response, tells your body what to do in the case of stress. Normally, once you rid your body of the stressor, your hormone level goes back to normal. But if your adrenal glands continue to release adrenaline and cortisol due to chronic stress, it will begin to take a heavy toll on your body. According to Healthline, some symptoms of chronic stress include irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia.
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems
If you have existing respiratory issues like asthma or emphysema, stress can make it harder for you to breathe. As you are rapidly breathing to distribute oxygen and blood throughout your body, your heart is pumping faster. This causes a raise in your blood pressure and your heart to overwork itself and may even raise your risk of hypertension and other heart health issues, according to Healthline. In 2004, researchers at McGill University studied 60 children ages 6 to 13 that had been diagnosed with asthma. After one year, a strong connection was found between stressful life events (moving, birth of a sibling, death, separations and changes in family relationships) and the worsening of asthma symptoms – at the end of the six week study, the risk of an asthma attack doubled.
In order for your body to give you the extra boost you need while you are stressed, your liver produces extra glucose. Normally, the unused blood sugar is reabsorbed back into your body. But if you are under chronic stress, your body might not be able to regulate your blood sugar levels which may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Healthline). The increase in hormones, breathing and your heart rate can also upset your digestive system and lead to heartburn or acid reflux. “You may experience nausea, vomiting, or a stomachache. Stress can affect the way food moves through your body, leading to diarrhea or constipation.”
The tightness you feel in your muscles when you are stressed is a normal response. But if you are under chronic stress, your muscles do not get the chance to relax and may cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches (Healthline).
Sexuality and Reproductive System
According to Healthline, stress in women can lead to irregular, heavier, more painful periods or even no menstruation at all. For men, chronic stress can cause testosterone levels to drop, which interferes with sperm production and may even cause erectile dysfunction (Healthline). In a study published in the June 2005 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility, 818 couples had their stress levels tested in order to measure the effects of stress on their ability to conceive in a fertility clinic. Results of the study concluded that while both men and women were negatively affected by stress, women required 3 fertility treatment cycles, in comparison to 2 treatment cycles needed for less-stressed women in the study.
Stress can positively benefit your immune system – it can help keep infections away and heal wounds (Healthline). But other time, chronic stress may compromise your cortisol levels in your immune system. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands. High cortisol levels can affect your mood, weight and sleeping patterns. Over long periods of time and if left unattended, cortisol secretion may actually because a vicious chain of events that lead to some of the most common lifestyle illnesses, like depression, anxiety, obesity, hypothyroidism, central obesity and diabetes.
Here are some tips that may help you cope with stress, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:
- Create an emotional support group made of up the people you trust like your friends and family
- Recognize the way your body responds to stress (difficulty sleeping, depression, low energy, etc…)
- Set priorities so you will always how what needs to be done and when it needs to be completed by
- Always note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you were unable to do.
- Regularly exercise for just 30 minutes per day (walking, yoga, etc…)
For more information on how you can manage your stress, consult your primary physician or a healthcare professional. If you or someone you know is in a crisis, call the toll-free, 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).