Being Stressed Out! Bad for You and Your Health
by Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, LD, ACSM HFS
A full 43 percent of U.S. adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, according to an American Psychological Association (APA) study. Jobs, money and health are cited as the “top three” sources of stress.
A little stress can be okay, but with the crazy time schedules we keep to these days, chronic stress can wreak havoc on our bodies. Stress can hit us an external force, like a big project at work, or a self-induced internal force like doubting yourself.
When your body feels stressed or threatened, your nervous system kicks into overdrive.
“Fight or Flight”
Hormones including adrenaline and cortisol tell your body to get going to either fight, or run from the stressor. Adrenaline causes the body to increase energy supplies while cortisol lets your brain use glucose more effectively. It also tells your digestion to stop, and refocus the energy to external limbs (run away!).
Body Responses to Stress
Here’s what happens during your stress response:
- Heart rate increases
- Muscles tighten
- Blood pressure increases
- Rate of breathing increases
- Senses sharpen
A Little is OK, More is Not Better
“Overall, it's important to find healthy routines and foods that are enjoyable so that you remember to maintain those habits through seasons and stages.”
But what happens when you’re stressed all the time? Your body ceases to respond to each incident in the above ways and begins to affect not only your mood, but decreases your health as a whole.
Long term stress can affect you in the following ways:
- Raises blood pressure
- Suppresses the immune system
- Increases the risk of heart attack and stroke
- Contributes to infertility
- Ages the body
- Increases risk of depression
- Causes sleep problems
- Digestive problems like increased stomach acid (ulcers)
- Increases risk of obesity
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Constant worrying
- Aches and Pains
- Increasing food consumption or decreasing it
With all the “down sides” to chronic stress, why do we put up with it? I have no idea, that’s a good question. One guess is that it’s that feeling of trying to “dig out” of all the “things” that seem to pile up on us.
We can’t do it all… so how does TRYING to do it all help us? Maybe it’s better to look at our 24 hours and spend it wisely. Then… Let it go.
How Do You Chill Out?
De-stress by reaching out to a friend for a great chat. Go for a walk or get some exercise in by going for a swim! Pause for a few minutes of deep breathing — or even better hit up a yoga or meditation class. You’ve got to take a little time for yourself to reduce stress before it affects health. Overall, it’s important to find healthy routines and foods that are enjoyable, so that you remember to maintain those habits through seasons and stages.
Remember, small changes for big results: stopping the stress before it becomes long term can keep the long list of problems I mentioned earlier at bay.