Check your stress levels

Posted by Helen Potter on 18 January 2018 | Filed under In Touch Physiotherapy, Tips

Three reasons to get your stress levels in check in 2018 

By: HealthTimes | Published: 15-01-2018 Stephen Mattarollo & Michael Nissen, Uni of Queensland

What is stress?

It’s difficult not to let stress affect us in our fast-paced lives. Whether you’re working overtime, battling exams, or caring for a sick relative, chronic stress has become commonplace.When we’re acutely feeling stress the fight-or-flight system jumps into action, sending a surge of adrenaline through the body. This product of evolution dramatically increases our reaction speed and once allowed us to escape or fight a predator.

Coping with Stress

But our bodies do not cope with ongoing activity of these stress pathways.The psychological effects of stress – such as irritability, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping – are obvious to anyone who has been under pressure. But stress also has subtle, underlying effects on almost every part of the body, including the heart, gut and immune system.Here are just three reasons to get your stress levels in check this year.

  1. You’re at risk of a heart attack if you have high-stress levels
  • When activated, the fight-or-flight system causes blood pressure to spike and redirects blood flow away from non-essential parts of the body and into the muscles.
  • Consistently high blood pressure or frequent spikes strain the coronary arteries serving the heart. Higher blood pressure with each beat causes arteries to slowly stiffen and become clogged, which impedes blood flow to the heart.
  • One study found people who were chronically stressed, either in their work or home life, were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack than those who weren’t.
  • Another effect of stress on the cardiovascular system is hyper-responsiveness. When a person is suffering low but persistent levels of stress, their response to an added source of stress is more intense, leading to larger spikes in heart rate and blood pressure.
  • The increase in blood pressure damages blood vessels and increases the chances of blockages and heart attacks.
  1. Your bathroom habits are unpredictable if you have high-stress levels
  • The same systems that increase blood pressure and heart rate during stress also cause food to digest more slowly.
  • The chemicals the stomach and intestines produce change when you’re feeling stress. Food brakes down in different ways and the body may have difficulty absorbing the nutrients from it. This can lead to constipation, diarrhoea and general intestinal discomfort.
  • Chronic stress has can link to more serious diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. While the reasons for this still aren’t clear, it’s thought that chronic stress causes bowel disease by increasing inflammation from intestinal immune cells called mast cells.
  • Treatment for these diseases usually revolves around managing the painful and uncomfortable symptoms instead of addressing the underlying cause. However, some therapies, such as the hormone melatonin, work by reducing the effects of stress on the gut.
  1. You’re more likely to get sick if you have high-stress levels
  • We’ve long known that stress makes people more vulnerable to catching minor illnesses but we’ve only begun to understand how stress affects the immune system over the past few decades.
  • The best examples of this come from a study of chronically stressed carers who look after patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and another of medical students in the middle of their exam period.
  • When given the flu vaccine, the stressed caretakers had a lower immune response to the vaccine than normal.
  • Conversely, when the medical students had a vaccine in the middle of their exam periods against hepatitis, the students with better social support and lower levels of stress and anxiety had a better immune response.
  • In other words, when the participants felt stress, their immune system didn’t function as it should to recognise and defend against the virus. The same occurs for colds and flu, other viruses, bacterial infections and even cancer.
  • When stress causes the immune system to break down, a bug that might have been under control can suddenly start flourishing. Once a person begins feeling sick, their stress levels will likely rise and make it harder for the immune system to fight off the disease. This prolongs the illness and increases the risk it will be passed on to another person.

How to reduce your stress levels

  • There are many strategies available to reduce the effects of stress, but research on their health benefits has only recently started and understood over the past few decades.
  • In an experiment in 2002, where subjects given injections of artificial adrenaline had higher increase their blood pressure and heart rate. But when one of the subjects was bored and started meditating, their heart rate fell to normal even with the researchers attempting to increase it artificially.
  • This finding repeats in a 2008 study, where researchers took newly breast cancer patients and enrolled them in a mindfulness-based stress-reduction program.  This focused on breath awareness, meditation and yoga.
  • After eight weeks of participation in the program, the immune systems of the women had all made a remarkable recovery, and were functioning just as well as a healthy person’s immune system.
  • The women also felt much more optimistic about their future, as well as feeling more connection with their family and friends.
  • Short bursts of acute stress can be beneficial to immune function, particularly with exercise. While solid evidence is still lacking in humans, mice benefit from frequent exercise while fighting off melanoma.
  • In the end, it comes down to being aware of your stress levels, and what works for you to get your stress in check. Many of your bodily functions will benefit from you relaxing.

Copyright © HealthTimes Modified by Helen Potter FACP Jan 18 2018




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