Everyone encounters stress one way or another. Sometimes, it comes from doing something essential, like exercise. We get stressed when our minds are challenged after a grueling chess game. But when stress becomes severe, such as in traumatic experiences or chronic sleep disturbances, it can get really unpleasant and may lead to some serious health problems.
“Research tells us that this is a common experience for those under stress. That everyone experiences stress and up to a certain level it can be helpful. Yet, stress can negatively impact one’s normal daily functioning or health.” That is according to Edna M. Esnil, PsyD. With that, here are some stress-related health problems that we should not ignore:
Although stress has not been found to directly cause heart disease, it has definitely been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Excessive levels of stress increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some people do not have strong coping mechanisms and turn to smoking and drinking to deal with their stress, all of which are risk factors that cause heart disease. Stress cardiomyopathy, or Takosubo cardiomyopathy, is a type of heart attack that is thought to be due to stress from the death of a loved one.
Diabetes Mellitus is a disease that is characterized by an increase in blood sugar levels. It has been proven through various studies that both mental and physical stress can greatly increase the blood glucose levels of individuals with diabetes. Sleep might be affected when you’re under stress and this triggers the release of more cortisol from the body which causes the body to further release more blood glucose. Glucose tolerance and insulin resistance are also affected negatively by mental and physical stress.
Studies have shown a significant relationship between stress and asthma. A trial done on military veterans with PTSD showed that more than half of them also had asthma. Moreover, people under chronic stress and often cry a lot have difficulty breathing and consequently aggravate symptoms of asthma.
Stress can possibly worsen Alzheimer’s disease, as it depletes brain cells and speeds up the formation of brain lesions. It has also been suspected of being one of the triggers of early dementia by activating a degenerative process in the brain. A study revealed that more than half of the patients with Alzheimer’s had emotional stress in the past before they were diagnosed to have the disease.
Anxiety and Depression
According to Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, “We may not want to, but we can always handle our emotions. Anxiety lives in the future, and is constructed with ‘what-if’s and possibilities, whereas confidence lives in the past, constructed by our realities.” It is undeniable that chronic stress could lead to depression and anxiety. In fact, most studies have shown that 80% of individuals who had stress-related jobs also suffered from a considerable degree of anxiety and depressive disorders.
Aging is connected to areas found in our chromosomes called Telomeres. They decrease as we age, apparently, stress and anxiety tend to accelerate the process of aging by premature shortening of these Telomeres. This causes muscle weakening, loss of eyesight, hearing, and ultimately cell death. Stress was found to speed the aging process to about 17 more years.
Stress Management is the Key
“Prior to an upcoming stressor, reflect on how much you value one of your character strengths,” says Ryan M. Niemiec Psy.D. That is because life’s stresses are inevitable. Some are simple and others are complicated. Nevertheless, they should never be ignored. Find ways to handle your stress, like engaging in recreational sports or practicing yoga and meditation. There are health professionals who are willing to help you learn to decrease your stress levels and encourage positive thinking. In the end, we should all be ready to take on stress and fight it to live life fully and successfully.