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4 THINGS STRESS CAN DO TO YOUR HEALTH (PLUS 3 WAYS TO FEEL GOOD AGAIN)

Shailesh Sharma 01 Apr 2019
4 THINGS STRESS CAN DO TO YOUR HEALTH (PLUS 3 WAYS TO FEEL GOOD AGAIN)

Disclaimer: Please note that Mya Care does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided is not intended to replace the care or advice of a qualified health care professional. Always consult your doctor for all diagnoses, treatments and cures for any diseases or conditions, as well as before changing your health care regimen.

April marks the start of National Stress Awareness Month. Stress is ubiquitous and natural, of course. Whether it is a student appearing for an exam or adults working hard to take care of their family, everyone experiences a certain degree of stress in everyday life.

While short-term stress is quite unlikely to cause major health problems, chronic (long-term) stress can wreak havoc on your health. Various studies have linked chronic stress to a number of health conditions. For example, heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety, sleep issues and weakened immune function.

In this article, we take a closer look at the negative health effects of stress. Besides, you will learn ways to improve your health.

Chronic stress not only makes you more likely to develop heart disease but also triggers potentially life-threatening cardiac events. In fact, one study suggests chronic stress at work and in private life can increase the risk of heart disease by a whopping 50 percent.

While scientists are yet to find a definitive link between stress and heart disease risk, they believe stress increases inflammation and disrupts the balance among the body’s physiological processes.

It can also promote the risk factors of heart disease, such as obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, social isolation, and sleep disturbance.

1. Stress is bad for your heart

Chronic stress not only makes you more likely to develop heart disease but also triggers potentially life-threatening cardiac events. In fact, one study suggests chronic stress at work and in private life can increase the risk of heart disease by a whopping 50 percent.

While scientists are yet to find a definitive link between stress and heart disease risk, they believe stress increases inflammation and disrupts the balance among the body’s physiological processes.

It can also promote the risk factors of heart disease, such as obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, social isolation, and sleep disturbance.

2. Repeated or long-term stress increases the risk of diabetes

Stress is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body does not produce enough insulin or the cells cannot properly use insulin. In any case, blood sugar levels become too high.

Increased stress affects your body’s ability to metabolize glucose. When you are exposed to a stressful situation or event, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. Higher cortisol levels block the effects of insulin. Moreover, cortisol increases the production of glucose in the liver, which can cause a surge in the blood glucose levels.

Interestingly, high cortisol levels also promote fat accumulation in the abdomen. Note that increased waist circumference indirectly increases your risk of developing diabetes.

3. It raises your blood pressure and can cause hypertension

Exposure to a stressful situation stimulates the body’s “fight or flight” response. During the response, the brain sends signals to release several powerful chemicals called catecholamines into the bloodstream. These chemicals increase heart rate and blood pressure.

Though a transient rise in blood pressure does not necessarily lead to hypertension, it can be a problem if blood pressure fails to return to normal levels even after the stressor no longer exists.

According to researchers, certain people may be more prone to developing hypertension because of stress. These include people who show an exaggerated response to a stressful situation and those who cannot cope with repeated stressful events.

4. It can make you more prone to illness

It goes without saying that stress changes a person’s immune system. Short-term stress can actually strengthen a person’s immune system as a part of a defense against possible infections.

However, long-term stress does just the opposite. It weakens the immune system and makes a person more prone to infections and illness. For example, the common cold is more common in people exposed to stressful events.

Other illnesses that have been linked to increased stress include asthma, eczema, heartburn, inflamed colon, migraine, depression, and cancer.  

Stress Management Techniques

Learning ways to relax your body and mind is probably the best thing you can do to calm yourself. These relaxation techniques are easy to perform and do not require any specific skills or expertise.

1. Breathe deeply

When you are stressed, you tend to take shallow breaths. The shallow breaths can make symptoms of stress worse. Thus, it is important to take care of your breathing during stressful situations.

How to breathe deeply?

  • Sit comfortably in a quiet place where there are minimal distractions.
  • Raise your ribcage so that your chest can expand.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  • Feel the movement of your upper chest and abdomen while you inhale and exhale.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth. Make sure your upper chest is still while you breathe.
  • Continue taking slow and deep breaths for at least 10 minutes.

Taking deep breaths using diaphragm can help:

  • Lower your blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduce cortisol levels in the blood
  • Maintain an optimal balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
  • Improve the function of the immune system
  • Boost physical energy
  • Enhance feelings of wellbeing and control

2. Relax your tensed muscles

Muscle tension is a physiological manifestation of fear or anxiety. Repeated muscle tension can cause muscle aches, tension headaches, and tightness in your neck and shoulders.

You can release muscle tension by practicing a technique called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).

How to do?

  • Sit or lie down in a quiet place.
  • You can keep your eyes closed or open.
  • Take slow deep breaths for a few minutes.
  • Begin with clenching a fist so that you feel the tension in your hand and forearm. Keep your fist clenched for about 5 seconds.
  • Now, relax for about 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the cycles of creating muscle tension and relaxation on other body parts including your upper arm, forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth, jaw, shoulders, chest, stomach, and legs.

3. Meditation

How to do?

  1. Sit comfortably in a place with no or minimal distractions.
  2. Close your eyes and breathe deeply for a few seconds.
  3. Visualize a comfortable and peaceful place or situation.
  4. Use all your senses to feel the environment in your mind.
  5. Select a cue that you need the most now. It could be something as simple as a sentence like “I am stress-free now”.

You can also consider taking some time out to visit a wellness resort or spa to unwind for a few days. If stress levels get to a point where you cannot handle them, it may be best to visit a doctor.

About the Author:
Shailesh Sharma is a registered pharmacist and medical content writer from Nepal. He enjoys digging into latest findings of research and strongly believes in evidence-based health information. He graduated from Pokhara University School of Health and Allied Sciences and was engaged in clinical pharmacy and academia in various regions of Nepal for almost 9 years. Shailesh also serves as Project Manager of Graduate Pharmacists’ Association, Nepal (GPAN).

Sources:

  • Natural Reviews. Cardiology. Stress and cardiovascular disease.
  • Journal of Epidemiology. Investigation of the Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Insulin Resistance in a Chinese Population.
  • Current Hypertension Reports. Chronic Psychosocial Stress and Hypertension.
  • Journal of Family Psychology. The association between daily stress and sexual activity.
  • Epidemiology. A cohort study of stress and the common cold.
  • Victoria State Government. BetterHealth Channel. Breathing to reduce stress. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  • Government of Western Australia. Department of Health. Progressive muscle relaxation. Retrieved March 29, 2019. 
  • Healthline. This Self-Hypnosis Technique Will Bring You Instant Calm. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
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