If you’re anything like most patients I see, your life can be full of stress, deadlines, and bad relationships, not to even mention dealing with the dreaded multi-tasking over-aggressive Dale Earnhardt want-to-be in rush-hour traffic every now and then.
But did you know that stress is bad for your health? Some experts believe that stress is as harmful to our health as obesity and hypertension.
How is that possible? Well, here’s what happens to your body when you feel stress.
The Stress Cascade
When the body is faced with a stressful situation, it initiates the stress cascade:
1. The hypothalamus stimulates the anterior pituitary with Corticotropin, which causes the release of ACTH, which then stimulates the adrenal to secrete cortisol.
2. Cortisol is produced to help get the body back in a steady state of homeostasis, to overcome the situation at hand. There is a redistribution of energy toward critical organs like the brain and heart and away from the digestive system and reproductive system.
3. If the threat is resolved, the system is shut-down, and there is no long-term impact on your health.
But, lots of stressors don’t just go away quickly.
4. When the threat cannot be overcome or one is chronically exposed to stress, the system is over worked and is harmful to the brain and heart. The immune system is suppressed, which is not a problem if the stress is only for a short time…but when faced with chronic stress we become vulnerable to biologic attacks on our bodies. The production of cortisol hampers the proliferation of T-cells and function of white cells.
One study looked at individuals caring for a spouse with dementia. These caregivers who were under chronic stress had a decreased response when given a vaccination, compared to people not under chronic stress. This was evidence proving that the more stress you’re under, the worse your immune system can protect you.
5. Chronic stress is also associated with a variety of diseases including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, irritable bowel, headaches, fatigue, ulcers, depression and memory loss.
In our effort to live a healthy life many times we dismiss the importance of limiting or eliminating stress. But stress has a very real role in our health – limiting it as much as possible can help avoid many of the diseases that lead to a poor quality of life.
So the next time things aren’t going your way, or the over aggressive driver cuts you off, smile and don’t let them hurt you even more. Smile and know that you’re not going to let them stress you out. That’s worth something….it’s certainly worth your health.
Take our quiz here to find out how stressed you are.
Dr. Paul Thompson is an age management practitioner. He is the President of Cenegenics Elite Health in Arlington Texas. He is also a cofounder and board member of USMD, a Medical Development Company. He was a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons & the Chief of Surgery (20 years), Chief of Staff, and head of the Credential Committee at Southeast
Featured photo by Evil Erin