All of us deal with stress in our lives, whether it is due to work, family issues, financial worries, health woes or some combination. In fact, stress is more pervasive than you may have realized — 75% of adults say they have experienced at least one symptom of stress in the last month alone. Those symptoms include:
- Feeling irritable
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Insomnia or sleeplessness
However, those are only some of the many signs of stress. Other indications include digestive issues including stomachaches, diarrhea and constipation; headaches; forgetfulness; lack of focus or energy; a stiff jaw or neck; frequent aches and pains; getting sick more often; or feeling sad for no discernible reason.
In short, stress is your body’s physical and emotional response to a perceived threat. While some stress is short-lived — such as the feeling you get when you have to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident — other types of stress can be long-lasting, or chronic. It is this chronic stress that can cause or worsen a variety of medical conditions including cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers now believe that chronic stress could lead to low-level inflammation, and the inflammation in turn can trigger or aggravate comorbid diseases.
Inflammation occurs when your body’s immune system responds to a foreign substance, such as a virus or bacteria, or an emotional stressor. To combat the hazard and achieve homeostasis, your body produces chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines. Normally those cytokines attack the threat and then disappear, but if the threat continues or is ongoing (such as when you lose your job and have to search for a new one), those cytokines may stick around, causing inflammation and potentially leading to disease.
While there are a number of ways that diseases can start, many conditions are linked with low-level chronic inflammation. If you can manage your stress, it could also help reduce inflammation and lower the risk of developing stress-related diseases.
Fortunately, there are multiple stress management techniques you can use to get your life back on track. Getting regular exercise, making sleep a priority, and eating a nutrient-dense diet could help make your body more resistant to stress. Other strategies include meditation or prayer, practicing yoga or tai chi, and journaling. It also helps to stay connected with friends and family, especially if you are experiencing turbulent life events. For more information about this nexus and how you can reduce chronic inflammation, check out the accompanying resource.