Stress causes a lot of physical reactions in the body. Although the correlation needs to be studied more, an overabundance of stress can be linked to issues such as heart disease. It’s important to know how to reduce stress and the ways it can harm your body.
Here are ways that stress affects your overall health.
High Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
When a stressful situation arises, your body releases a cocktail of chemicals, including adrenaline in response to a “fight or flight” urge. This in return causes both your heart rate and blood pressure to automatically rise and possibly even damage artery walls.1 Breathing also becomes faster in order for your body to properly deal with the situation even if it’s not harmful.
Be sure you’re monitoring your blood pressure, as the definition of high blood pressure has been changed by the American Heart Association over the past year.2 According to the new blood pressure standards, normal blood pressure is when the systolic reading, or the upper number, is less than 120 and the diastolic reading, or the lower number, is less than 80. The first stage of hypertension occurs when your upper number is between 130-139 and the lower number is between 80-89.
Stress triggers increased inflammation in the body which can cause ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders.3 Low-grade inflammation is known as “inflammaging” and has been linked to the stated conditions above. Pro-inflammatory cytokine is an immune cell whose purpose is to protect the body from infection. When someone undergoes chronic stress, studies have shown that the body produces more of these cells than it needs, thus triggering inflammation. Reducing stress helps with anti-inflammatory effects and lowers cytokines in the body.
One great stress-reducing activity is yoga. According to multiple studies, yoga has been successful in lowering stress and inflammation levels through practicing proper posture, breathing exercises and meditation. In this study, it was also reported that the participants who regularly did yoga felt less anxious and depressed. It is believed that yoga can play a role in slowing down the harmful effects that stress can cause the body both physically and psychologically.4
Weakened Immune System
Studies show that stress is linked to a malfunctioning immune system. When immune cells are suppressed, tissues are harmed by chronic inflammation. Patients with autoimmune diseases report flare-ups around stressful times in their lives. This could be the reason behind why people may get sick when going through stressful situations, leaving the body vulnerable to illnesses such as the cold or flu. As we know, sometimes stress is uncontrollable whether it be temporary or chronic and the feeling can quickly become overwhelming.
We must listen to our bodies and adjust whatever the factor may be that is causing stress otherwise, the immune system may be affected. The stress hormone cortisol is good in small amounts, but over time it can cause inflammation in your body. Chronic inflammation can contribute to more serious immune system disorders such as arthritis, lupus, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease.5 Stress also decreases the count of lymphocytes in the body, which are white blood cells that fight off infection, keeping you healthy.
Stress can wreak havoc your digestive system. It’s believed that problems between the brain and stomach are due to the “gut-brain connection”.6 The gastrointestinal tract contains many cells and nerve endings that can be impacted by stress. Hence, why you may get butterflies in your stomach when stressed or nervous. Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease can also be a result of stress and can cause an imbalance of bacteria in your gut. When feeling stressed, you can experience movement of the gastrointestinal tract, increase inflammation and even become more prone to infection.
So, what should you do to prevent frequent stress? Try practicing a positive mindset, meditate, exercise, and unplug from stressors in your life. Giving yourself some time to relax each day helps to collect your thoughts and escape from everyday worries. Have a conversation with your doctor about a stress management plan that will work for you.
Stress and your heart. (n.d.) Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/stress-and-your-heart
- Stress and heart health. (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health [↩]
- High blood pressure redefined for first time in 14 years: 130 is the new high [Press release]]. (2017, November 13). Retrieved from: http://newsroom.heart.org/news/high-blood-pressure-redefined-for-first-time-in-14-years-130-is-the-new-high [↩]
- Derrow, P. (n.d.). How stress affects your body, from your brain to your digestive system. (Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/stress/guide/effects-on-body/ [↩]
- Wei, M. (2017, October 19). Yoga could slow the harmful effects of stress and inflammation [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/yoga-could-slow-the-harmful-effects-of-stress-and-inflammation-2017101912588 [↩]
- What happens when your immune system gets stressed out?[blog post]. (2017, March 1). Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/ [↩]
- The gut-brain connection. (n.d.). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection [↩]