By Marlo Sollitto, AgingCare.com editor
Stress and worrying can make you physically sick. Stress is a pressure cooker: Left un-attended it will boil over. Stress and worry are proven to affect your physical health and may even shorten your lifespan.
Severe, chronic stress takes a physical toll and can damage your body in many ways – everything from your heart to your immune system. Because it negatively impacts so many health conditions, caregiver stress could even shorten your lifespan. Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not realize it. You may think illness is to blame for that nagging headache or your upset stomach. But the culprit could be stress.
How does stress affect the body?
Our bodies have a natural “stress alarm system” that warns us and responds to perceived danger and threats.
According to the National Institutes on Health (NIH), when you encounter perceived threats, your hypothalamus (a region at the base of your brain) sets off an alarm system in your body, Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located near your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, NIH says.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol seems to “tune down” the immune system and make it less able to fight infection, as well as suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.
When the stressors of your life are always present, leaving you constantly feeling stressed, tense, nervous or on edge, your stress-response system is on overload. The long-term activation of the stress-response system can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.
If your mind and body are constantly on edge because of excessive stress in your life, you may face serious health problems. Chronic emotional stress can affect virtually every organ system in negative ways, according to NIH. Prolonged stress has been shown to cause numerous health problems, including:
- Weakening of the immune system, making you more likely to have colds or other infections
- High blood pressure
- Upset stomach, ulcers and acid reflux
- Increased rapid heart beat and heart palpitations
- Panic attacks
- Cardio-vascular problems
- Increase in blood sugar levels
- Irritable bowel problems
- Tension headaches or migraines
- Sleep problems
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Respiratory problems and heavy breathing
- Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema
If stress isn’t controlled or released from the body, its going to manifest in some form physically. Finding ways to reduce stress will help lessen the long-term emotional and physical toll that tension takes on your body. By recognizing your warning signs and taking steps to reduce the stress in your life, you will also lead a healthier life, because oftentimes it’s the stress in your life that’s making you sick.