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February 18, 2020

The “Whole Body” Effects of Chronic Stress

The “Whole Body” Effects of Chronic Stress

Stress is your body’s method of coping with adverse or high-pressure circumstances. While stress is important because it helps you react quickly to dangerous situations, if we are chronically stressed, it can have effects on almost every organ in the body. Dr. Colleen Tenan, internal medicine, talks about the long-term effects of stress and gives pointers on how to reduce those effects on your body.

      • Your Cardiovascular System

Having a rapid heartbeat and chronic high blood pressure makes the heart work harder which puts stress on it. Over a prolonged period, this can lead to increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.

      • Your Respiratory System

Stress triggers your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to an increased respiratory rate, and make it especially hard for people with underlying lung problems (like asthma, COPD) to breathe.

      • Your Gastrointestinal System

When the cardiovascular system ramps up during stressful periods, blood is diverted away from the GI tract. Without proper blood flow to your digestive system, people experiencing stress can often experience problems like constipation, nausea and IBS. Additionally, increased acid production may lead to reflux and worsening of ulcers in those predisposed to them.

      • Your Endocrine System

Increased cortisol (stress hormone) can lead to weight gain and increased blood sugars, which are risk factors for diabetes.

      • Your Immune System

Having excess cortisol circulating in your body can predispose you to infections, and make you less capable of fighting off common viruses like the flu.

      • Your Mental Health

It is well proven that stress has a direct effect on your mental health and can lead to tension headaches, insomnia, and feelings of anxiety and depression.

It is important to address the factors in your life that contribute to your stress level and there are many things you can do to minimize anxiety and stress:

 

      • Talk to family/friends
      • Be sure to get regular exercise to release happy hormones like serotonin, which plays a big part in regulating your mood
      • Carve out time to  focus on hobbies that bring you joy
      • Studies show that deep breathing can help calm your body (you can use apps like headspace for guided meditation).

Dr. Tenan notes, if you feel like you are having a hard time coping with stress, you can always talk to your doctor – you are not alone and many people have similar problems.

 

 

Note: Things like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea and excessive sweating can also be signs of a heart attack, so don’t wait to seek emergency attention if you develop these symptoms.