You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “You’ll worry yourself sick.” Well, there’s actually some truth to that old saying. Constant stress can, in fact, put your health at risk. Here’s some information on why stress makes you sick – and some things you can do to help reduce the chances of that happening.
Why Stress Makes You Sick
Chronic stress can really do a number on your health. For example, it causes a rise in production of cortisol – a stress hormone. Too much cortisol in your body can be dangerous, because it can greatly increase the risk of illness, including heart-related problems. Cortisol can also cause you to put on weight, because it increases your appetite.1 When you accumulate belly fat, compounds called cytokines are released in your body, increasing your risk of developing serious diseases.2
Chronic stress can also reduce the effectiveness of your immune system. The immune system helps protect you from infections, and it also helps you heal after an injury. When your immune system is compromised, you’re more vulnerable to a great many health problems.3
Your body is also filled with hormones that help you react to dangerous situations. They trigger something known as the “fight-or-flight” response – which determines whether we choose to battle a danger or run from it. However, if you have prolonged stress, your body keeps producing these hormones, believing it’s in danger. When this happens, it can suppress your immune system, hindering your ability to fight off an infection.4
In one study, researchers looked at two groups of people under severe stress. One group was preparing for a medical board exam. The other group consisted of people married to spouses with cognitive problems. The researchers found that it took longer than normal for both groups to produce protective antibodies after being vaccinated for the flu.5
A Common Problem
Ideally, technology should make your life easier. But does it? Think about how you feel when your Internet connection suddenly crashes, or your cell phone conks out for no reason. It’s frustrating, and it’s stressful.
Research suggests technology might be making you more stressed than ever. According to one survey, the constant use of technology has been linked to higher levels of stress – 18 percent of respondents say they see technology as a substantial source of stress. And 20 percent of respondents said they’re more stressed when their technology doesn’t work properly.6
What You Can Do About It
Everybody encounters stress at one time or another, of course. And sometimes, the stress works in your favor. The fight-or-flight response, for example, can force you to jump out of your car before a train hits it.
But being overly stressed on a daily basis can lead to big problems. It can not only affect your immune system, it can also lead to digestive issues, headaches, and other physical ailments.7
Thankfully, though, there are many things you can do to lower your stress level. Here are just a few:
· Identify the problem – Do you get stressed because of morning traffic on your way to work? Are you constantly under difficult deadlines? Is there someone in the office or at home who is causing problems? Once you determine why you’re stressed, you’ll be in a better position to find ways to handle whatever situation is causing the problem.
· Work the stress out – Regular physical activity is great for your overall health, including your stress levels. Hitting a punching bag is a great way to get out your aggression. It can also reduce your cortisol level. But aerobic exercises will also work. Whether you jog, ride a bike, swim, or just walk around the neighborhood, exercise helps lower cortisol levels.8
· Meditate – Another way to reduce your anxiety and stress is to take some time to meditate each day. Breathing slowly helps to relax your vagus nerve. This, in turn, sends a signal to your brain to lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate.9
· Laugh more – Laughter is a great way to reduce stress. In fact, one study showed an association between laughing and stress hormone reduction.10
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If you suffer from chronic stress, and it’s affecting your quality of life, seek medical help. You might not be able to identify the specific cause of your stress – or you might have some sort of physical problem. It doesn’t matter. See your doctor. Be honest about what’s going on in your life that might be contributing to your stress. If your doctor is unable to determine a physical cause, they might recommend a counselor who could help.
Seek immediate help if you suffer from chest pain, severe headaches, or a rapid heartbeat. You’ll also need to call 911 if you are having any thoughts about harming yourself or someone else.
One Final Thought
Chronic stress is a common problem, so know that if it’s affecting you, you’re not alone. There are plenty of things you can do to help ease stress. Take care of yourself, and get help if you feel you need it – the sooner you do, the sooner you’ll start to feel better.