Stress: Don’t Let It Make You Sick

The ff. is  excerpted directly from Elizabeth Agnvall’s article in the November 2014 AARP Bulletin.  It is worth repeating.

Scientists have long known that stress complicates a host of health problems.  Now they are discovering that chronic stress–a mainstay of modern life–doesn’t merely exacerbate disease, it actually can cause it.

The human body reacts to stress by first pumping adrenaline and then cortisol into the bloodstream to focus the mind and body for immediate action…The adrenaline rush from the initial stress response can occasionally pose health risks…but the more significant hazard is the subsequent release of cortisol.  Generally considered a bad stress hormone, cortisol does serve many important functions–one of which is turning off inflammation.  But when chronic stress exposes the body to a relentless stream of cortisol, as happens when stress is constant, cells become desensitized to the hormone, “causing inflammation to go wild,”says Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Long-term chronic inflammation damages blood vessels and brain cells, leads to insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) and promotes painful joint disease.

Here are some other conditions that may be caused by stress:

1.Illness.  Chronic stress can make us cortisol resistant. “When under continuous stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond properly, and consequently produce levels of inflammation that lead to disease,” says Cohen.

2. Weight gain.  Angvall writes that the stress response produces a rise in insulin levels and a fall in fat oxidation, a dual process that promotes fat storage,  and she notes that other research has shown a correlation between excess cortisol and abdominal fat.  Interestingly, the body under chronic stress may also burn few calories than a body that experiences calm.

3. Slower healing. Excess cortisol slows wound healing.  Studies noted in Agnvall’s article show that the longer the stress continues, the longer the immune defense of the body is disrupted.  Conversely, people with a strong network of friends and family who participated in a study healed faster than those who lacked such support.

4. Sleep dysfunction.  Stress may aggravate sleep deficits that already exist in us as we age.  And because sleep deprivation impairs memory and emotional control, people with troubled sleep may then find it harder to handle the stress in their lives.

Stress also directly contributes to heart disease, depression, ulcers and other stomach problems, and back, neck, and shoulder pain.  If you can get your hands on the AARP November Bulletin, check out the rest of Agnvall’s article in the “Your Health” section. Thank you, Elizabeth!

And keep resting, playing, hydrating, loving, meditating, exercising, and healthfully eating, everyone!  Create the BEST healthy lifestyle you can, whatever you circumstances.  Aim for excellence, not perfection. Continuous effort to reduce stress in your life will be well worth the effort.  Your body will thank you for it!

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