Chronic stress affects many people and can be caused by financial struggles, marital issues, health issues, demanding careers, or a number of other different things. We may think chronic stress just makes us tired and more agitated, but we often don’t consider the effects it can have on our body. Stress can age us and increase our risk of developing certain diseases, but why? Let’s talk about what happens when we’re stressed, and what we can do about it.
Adrenal Glands, Cortisol, and Adrenaline
Being overworked, fighting with your spouse, experiencing financial difficulties, being sleep deprived, having nutritional deficiencies, or dealing with emotional disorders like depression and anxiety can all contribute to stress. When you are stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol and adrenaline. When adrenaline is released, a person typically experiences an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and may feel more energy for a short period of time. This can be helpful in a dangerous situation, but a chronic release of adrenaline can damage the heart, and may even contribute to vision and hearing loss due to the effects of prolonged blood vessel constriction.
Cortisol also gets released during times of stress and it can help regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and metabolism, and can help reduce inflammation. However, it needs to be released in the right amounts or it can have some negative effects on your health, as is the case with high or low cortisol. Low cortisol, also called adrenal fatigue, may be due to an underlying health condition, but the most common cause is being stressed for such a long period of time that your adrenal glands essentially “burn out”. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing and releasing certain hormones, and are critical to your health. They also control the “fight-or-flight” response, and release hormones accordingly. However, when we stay in the “fight-or-flight” (stressed out) mode for too long, our adrenal glands get tired, and greatly decrease the amount of cortisol they produce and release. This can lead to depression, food cravings, low blood pressure, irritability, diarrhea, etc.
Conversely, high cortisol usually occurs before adrenal fatigue develops. Being stressed leads to a release of cortisol, and a continual release of cortisol due to chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression, irritability, muscle weakness, increased thirst, etc. Keeping your stress levels down can help keep your cortisol levels balanced.
The ways in which chronic stress age us physically can be complicated, and the research is still ongoing, but there are a few things we know. Stress can damage DNA and lead to an increased risk of developing conditions like heart disease, Parkinson’s, and cancer. Vision and hearing may also be affected by stress due to the prolonged release of adernaline as discussed above. Adrenaline causes blood vessels to constrict, potentially reducing the blood flow to the eyes and ears.
Stress can also speed up the aging process in some indirect ways. When a person experiences stress they are more likey to crave unhealthy foods and alcohol, less likely to engage in exercise, and may find it more difficult to get enough quality sleep each night. Each of these things can speed up the aging process, contribute to a lower quality-of-life, and increase a person’s risk of developing certain conditions.
There are a few things you can do that may help reduce stress. Meditation, taking a relaxing bath, taking a walk, spending time with loved ones, taking a nap, or finding a calming hobby can all help reduce stress. If your stress is work-related, try to keep your workspace organized and know what needs to be done each day. If you are dealing with financial struggles, try creating a budget plan. Simply reminding yourself that something isn’t worth being stressed out over may also help.
Chronic stress is a problem affecting millions of people, and it can have lasting impacts on physical and mental health. Eating a balanced diet high in organic fruits and vegetables, and gettting at least seven hours of quality sleep every night can help provide the nutrients and energy you need to face the day, and can help increase your body’s ability to handle stress. It is so important to reduce stress whenever possible, so find time to take care of yourself every day.