Stress is for many an unavoidable part of life. In small doses this isn’t usually a problem, but if it’s something we experience too often it can have an extremely negative impact on our health. With ever-longer working hours, the demands of our personal lives, and the growing trend to be “switched on” via our smartphones twenty-four hours a day, it’s something that’s becoming a huge issue.
There are many ways to reduce stress in our lives, from taking on less work to practicing meditation. Furthermore, as stress becomes linked to ever more issues, the need live at a slower pace is becoming clearer. Here’s just a few of the ways chronic stress can impact your health.
Stress is thought to contribute to digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. When we are feeling stressed, our bodies go into emergency mode and reduce non-essential functioning, focusing instead on increasing heart rate and getting us ready to take action through redirecting blood flow. In this heightened state, digestion becomes neglected and does not function optimally.
Fatigue and Headaches
If we find ourselves regularly stressed out and under pressure, we can become demotivated and fatigued. This is worsened by stress-induced insomnia, and often attended by low sex drive, tension headaches, and migraines.
Depression, Anxiety and Burnout
For those who are susceptible to depressive disorders, stress can lead to depressive episodes and hugely exacerbate anxiety. Higher levels of cortisol, reduced serotonin, and an overstimulated “flight or fight” response will all combine to impair the mental wellbeing of people experiencing chronic stress.
This means that even those who do not live with mental health issues can find themselves becoming miserable if they are put under too much strain for too long. This sometimes leads to the debilitating physical and emotional exhaustion known as burnout.
Heart Health and Blood Pressure
The link between stress and heart health is unclear, but it’s thought that stress often goes hand-in-hand with the other factors involved in heart disease, such high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Being exposed to unhealthily high levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol may also be another issue, as well as the fact that those who are chronically stressed are more likely to engage in unhealthy habits like smoking.
Blood Sugar and Diabetes
Stress is known to play havoc with people’s blood sugar levels, with cortisol increasing the amount of sugar in our blood. This is a particular issue for those with diabetes, especially as long term stress and frustration can negatively impact wellbeing and is counterproductive to good self-care.
Worsened Chronic Conditions
Skin problems like acne and eczema often flair up in times of stress, while conditions like asthma, allergies and chronic pain are all negatively influenced by experiencing stress too often.
Reducing stress on a large scale may take a re-evaluation of how we live our lives and the workload we are expected to manage. However, on a personal level, learning some relaxation techniques, giving ourselves the chance to rest and avoiding making ourselves too busy will all help when we are trying to avoid the negative impact of chronic stress.