Stress: How to Overcome the ‘Secret Killer’

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Stress is something that everyone, regardless of age, gender, and background, will experience at some point during their lifetime. Stress is essentially the way in which the human body responds to what it perceives as danger. It’s characterized by symptoms like elevated blood pressure, increased perspiration, rapid breathing, hormonal changes, and other biochemical reactions.

But stress does more than just cause sleepless nights; it can also adversely affect your health, making you more susceptible to disease and illness. To learn more about the dangers of stress, as well as tips for reducing your stress levels, keep reading.

Heart Disease

According to a German study cited by Mercola, high stress levels may cause atherosclerosis, plaque rupture, and myocardial infarction. In case you skipped biology in college, myocardial infarction is a condition in which part of the heart muscle dies and can no longer effectively pump blood, thus leading to heart attack and potentially even death. In fact, a separate report published by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation cites acute myocardial infarction (MI) as one of the world’s leading causes of mortality and mobility.

The same Mercola article cites a second study linking stress to heart disease. Published in the medical journal Bio, researchers found that stressful situations cause the body to release hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol, both of which adversely affect the heart while increasing the risk of stroke and other complications. Heart disease is already the leading cause of death in the U.S., so individuals should avoid risk factors like stress when possible.

Weight Gain

Can’t seem to maintain a healthy weight no matter how much time you spend exercising at the gym? Well, you aren’t alone. A recent survey conducted by Gallup found that one in four Americans are actively working towards losing weight. When diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to shed those unwanted pounds, perhaps you should take a closer look at your stress levels.

As explained by this University of New Mexico (UNM) article, several studies have linked elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol to weight gain. When you are stressed, your body produces extra cortisol. And as levels of cortisol increase, you’ll have a harder time managing your weight. This is because high levels of cortisol trigger hunger cravings, while also causing the body to store more fat in the abdomen.

Fatigue

According to Statistic Brain, the single most common physical symptom of stress is fatigue. Stress depletes the body’s energy levels, leaving individuals feeling tired and exhausted. So even if you get a solid eight hours of sleep at night, you may still feel groggy the following morning.

This is particularly true when speaking of prolonged stress, as it gradually takes a toll on a person’s energy levels. Once you’re able to manage your stress levels, however, your energy levels should return to normal.

Headaches

Another problem that many highly stressed individuals experience is frequent headaches. The same article cited above found headaches to be the second most common physical symptom of stress.

Stress triggers certain changes in the brain’s hormones, including the increased production and release of cortisol. As a side effect of these hormonal changes, many people experience headaches, ranging from mild, localized pain to intense migraines.

Suppressed Immune System

Ever notice how you get sick more frequently when you are stressed? This isn’t just a coincidence; stress compromises the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infectious illness.

The American Psychological Association (APA) explains this phenomenon, citing several studies that link stress to immune system suppression.

How to Lower Your Stress Levels

There’s no way to completely avoid all forms of stress. After all, this biological phenomenon is programmed into our DNA to help us survive. If you see a shark while swimming in the ocean, you’ll probably experience a sudden burst of adrenaline and energy because of stress.

But unless you are faced with a life-and-death scenario, there’s no need to experience stress. Here are some tips to lower your stress levels:

  • Watch what you eat. Focus your diet on healthy, natural foods, while limiting your intake of processed foods.
  • Engage in social activities. Studies have shown that spending time with friends and family members reduces stress while subsequently promoting the release of “happy” hormones like serotonin and endorphin.
  • Listen to relaxing music. Your choice of music can affect your stress levels, either helping or hurting. Relaxing music has a soothing effect that lowers stress and anxiety.
  • Keep a journal of your thoughts. Sometimes the best stress therapy is writing down your thoughts in a daily journal. This gets the stress off your mind, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your life.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Sleep and stress are closely linked to one another. If you don’t get enough shut-eye, you are more likely to experience stress and anxiety. It’s just that simple.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Far too many people stress over small, insignificant things. Unless it directly affects your health, you really don’t need to stress over it.
  • Perform deep-breathing exercises. You can instantly lower your stress levels by engaging in deep breathing. Take long, deep breaths, hold them in for a second, and then release.
  • Watch a funny movie (or TV show). Much like social engagement, laughter causes the body to release serotonin, countering the effects of stress.

These are just a few tips to lower your stress levels and regain control of your life. To learn more about stress, contact us today.

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