How Chronic Stress Affects Your Health

Short-lived feelings of stress are a regular part of daily life. However, when these feelings become chronic, or long-lasting, they can severely impact a person’s health.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural occurrence in your body. It alerts you of certain dangers and produces the fight or flight effect. It can also enhance your performance by releasing adrenal glands to heighten your senses. However, too much stress produced at a constant level can lead to chronic stress and affect your daily life, your mental health, and can lead to heart disease, and even death. 

Stress is a biological response to demanding situations. It causes the body to release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones help prepare the body to take action, by increasing the heart and breath rates creating a heightened state of alertness or arousal. This response to certain situations is meant to protect you against threats from predators whether physical or psychological.

How Stress Works

Whenever you encounter something that could be a perceived threat, such as a large dog barking during your morning walk, an unknown noise at 4 am, or any other stressful event,  it causes a tiny region at your brain’s base, called the hypothalamus, to sound an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system causes your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which sometimes, affects your health. 

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation, and fear.

Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to their natural levels and other systems continue their regular activities.

However, when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

Why is Chronic Stress Dangerous

While most physical predator threats can be rare you undoubtedly face multiple psychological threats on a daily basis, as there is more than one type of stress, such as taking on large projects at work, paying bills, and taking care of your family. 

Your body treats these everyday tasks the same way that they treat the other stressful situations like the dog barking. But the threat does not disperse as quickly as that bark. As a result, you may feel as if you’re constantly under attack.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This can result in weight loss/gain, migraines, depression, stress on the heart, insomnia, and much more. 

Acute Stress vs. Chronic Stress

Acute Stress is short term stress such as working on an important project for work. You work long hours and have a short deadline. This can cause many stressful days as you gather the details. However, once the project is completed, you can relax.

Chronic Stress Is Long-Term, such as financial struggles. This is not a one-time occurrence, but an on-going stressor in your life to provide for your family. If you find yourself in a nearly constant state of heightened alertness, this is chronic stress.

Working overtime, constant travel and high-pressure business relations can keep your body in a constant state of excitement, even when you go home. This can also add to the wear and tear on your body and continuous stress can contribute to declining health issues like heart disease or lead to a heart attack.

How Does Chronic Stress Affect the Heart

Chronic stress can raise your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and heart rate. If these effects stay at a heightened state for extended periods of time it can put a strain on your heart. Additionally, stress may affect your behaviors that increase the chance of heart diseases, such as smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating.

Some people may choose to drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes to help relieve themselves of chronic stress. However, these habits can increase blood pressure and may damage artery walls, providing the need for more stress management due to bigger health problems. 

How Chronic Stress Affects the Body

Chronic stress puts pressure on the body for an extended period and can affect the whole body. This can cause a range of symptoms and increase the risk of developing certain illnesses. It can also zap your energy, wreak havoc on your sleep and make you feel cranky, forgetful and out of control.

The type and severity of stress including symptoms vary considerably from person to person

  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • Difficult or inability to concentrate
  • rapid or disorganized thoughts
  • difficulty sleeping
  • digestive problems
  • changes in appetite
  • feeling helpless
  • a perceived loss of control
  • low self-esteem
  • loss of sexual desire
  • nervousness
  • frequent infections or illnesses

Over long periods, chronic stress can contribute to the development of a range of physical and mental disorders, including:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • weakened immune system
  • sexual dysfunction
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • skin irritation
  • respiratory infections
  • autoimmune diseases
  • insomnia
  • burnout
  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • schizophrenia

Stress can cause a lot of health issues especially when it comes to your heart. To help combat the health effects that come with stress, Advanced Body Scan has put together tips to combat it.

If you are concerned about your health Advanced Body Scan offers a variety of preventive scans including a Heart and Lung Scan to detect illness. We encourage you to stay proactive in all areas of your health and consult with your health provider about any of your concerns. 

Preventive screening can help give you the knowledge to continue living a healthy life. Call today to schedule your preventive scan and gain knowledge about your health.