Stress has become an ever-present part of our lives, and most of us can hardly imagine a life in which we wouldn’t have to constantly be nervous about something. In fact, stress is necessary for the human body to stay “focused” and alert, but excessive amounts of stress can be detrimental to a person’s general health. Furthermore, scientists are now finding that when the body is kept in a fight-or-flight state for too long, all of its systems eventually start to function poorly. So what are the health conditions that one can acquire because of their stressful, hectic lifestyle?
Here are the ten health problems that can easily be acquired by being a little too stressed out:
- Cardiovascular diseases. There is still no consensus as to how exactly stress contributes to the development of heart diseases, but it is commonly observed by medical practitioners that patients who have heart problems are continuously exposed to high levels of stress. Some doctors believe that this happens because of the chemicals that are released into the blood flow of a stressed person. They include cholesterol, adrenaline, and triglycerides, all of which make blood flow faster, thus forcing the heart to work harder. Others suggest that stress often leads to smoking and having an unhealthy diet, which in turn contribute to heart diseases. In addition, people who were exposed to sudden acute emotional stress are highly likely to suffer from heart attacks and some other serious cardiovascular problems.
- Research shows that people who are constantly stressed are at a higher risk of developing asthma not only in themselves but also passing it on to their children. In one study, researchers focused their attention on families in which children were exposed to their mother’s smoking during and/or after pregnancy, or to some other source of air pollution. They measured the stress levels in those families and came to the conclusion that the tenser the parents were, the more likely their children were to develop asthma even at an early age.
- Being overweight is bad for overall health anyway, but doctors believe that belly fat is much worse than fat on the hips or back, because it has a direct impact on the function of the cardiovascular system. Unfortunately, stress triggers the production of a hormone called cortisol, which forces the body to store excessive fat in the abdominal area.
- Stress can have a double negative impact on patients with diabetes. First, it causes them to eat more unhealthy food or drink alcohol excessively. Second, in people with diabetes type 2, stress is capable of raising glucose levels.
- These are more common in women, although men suffer from stress-related headaches and migraines as well. This condition is often hard to deal with, and can become a further source of stress, leading to a vicious cycle.
- It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that a stressed person often feels anxious and apprehensive. However, if the exposure to stress is continuous and long-term, the individual faces a high possibility of becoming depressed. Studies have shown that up to eighty percent of people who have a lot of troubles at work are more likely to become depressed in the long run than their colleagues who work in a calmer and quieter environment.
- People who are always under a lot of pressure tend to sleep poorly and feel exhausted all the time. If the issues aren’t resolved, this condition can grow into insomnia, which in its turn influences a person’s daily performance and his/her relationships with others.
- Alzheimer’s disease. This medical condition causes lesions to grow on the brain, and modern research shows that stress can speed up this process. On the other hand, it is possible that reducing the amount of stress in a patient’s life will inhibit the growth of lesions.
- Premature aging. Comparing mothers with healthy and chronically ill children allowed a team of researchers to compare their general health condition over an extended period. Unsurprisingly, mothers who experienced stress on a daily basis showed aging signs nine to seventeen years earlier than those who had no serious problems with the health of their children.
- Early death. Another study focused on two groups of elderly couples. In the first group, both spouses were relatively healthy, while in the second group one of the spouses had to take care of their seriously ill partner. The caregivers were a lot more likely to suffer from premature death – the death rate among them was 63% higher than among people whose spouses were healthy.
What Can I Do About Stress?
Obviously, you cannot avoid all stressful situations in your life, but you should work towards minimizing them. Stress management is available to help you, even if you don’t believe that it will work. Despite having families, careers, and interpersonal relationships to manage, you may find that taking up a stress management class brings some benefits to your life.
If it doesn’t, you are still likely to benefit from using the following techniques:
- Breathe deeply. Inhaling and exhaling slowly is a great way to calm down. It is fast, fairly effective, and it can be done virtually anywhere – whether you are at work, at home, in your car, or at a workout session. Psychologists also recommend relaxing one particular group of muscles every time that you exhale. For instance, for the first time, relax your jaw muscles, which are likely to be clenched together. For the second, pay attention to your shoulders and arms. Work your way down to the heels in this way and you are likely to feel significantly calmer when you’re done.
- Stay right in the present. Most of the time when people feel stressed about something, it is because they are afraid of the future or reliving the past. Instead of doing that, focus on the present: you experience every moment just once, so live in it without bringing back unpleasant memories or fearing what’s about to come. What’s done is done, and you can never change that, while stressing over the future can make you nervous, exhausted, and actually make you perform worse than you could have if you were calm. To force yourself to return to the present moment, focus on your body’s sensations: if you’re walking, feel the movement of your muscles, if you’re having a meal, feel the taste of food in your mouth, etc.
- Approach the problem in a different way. For instance, if you’re stuck in a traffic jam and you’re obviously not going to make it to an important meeting, you’re likely to be nervous or angry. This won’t make your car move any faster, so you’re just creating a stressful situation for nothing. Instead of ranting about traffic jams, you can make better use of that time by doing some additional preparation for the meeting or calling your kids to make sure they are doing fine.
- Keep things in perspective. When you’re stressed about a problem, it is likely to be the subject of all your thoughts and conversations. Try to embrace a broader perspective and think about the other things in your life that you should probably be grateful for – your family, friends, personal success, or even just being able to walk, talk, and see. Oftentimes, we don’t value these simple things until they are taken away from us, so don’t take them for granted and always keep them in mind if you’re upset or nervous about something.
These techniques can help you to deal with stress right on the spot. However, you can go further and change your lifestyle to adopt some healthier habits that will help is your fights with stress. Exercising on a regular basis is a great way to keep fit not only physically, but also mentally. Alternatively, you could try to learn meditation or take up yoga, as those activities are beneficial for health even if they require a lot of time and effort to get the hang of.