Can Stress Make You Sick?

Never-ending expectations can make you feel stressed and overwhelmed. From being worried about money to wondering about the future of the country, it seems there are dozens of reasons for you to be stressed out. And with the constant news coverage highlighting horrible things happening to people on the other side of the world, it’s easy to get caught up in negativity.

It seems conspicuous that rises in stress levels are happening at the same time as rises in chronic illness levels. Many scientific studies agree that stress can affect your health in a number of ways. This article will outline the kinds of health changes you can expect from too much stress, as well as give you some ways to prevent getting sick.

Stress Levels Are Rising

If you feel more stressed out than you have in the past, you’re not alone. Increased exposure to news featuring the latest frightening event is having a huge impact on the physical and mental health of the nation. This year, people are more stressed about the state of the nation than ever before,

The state of the nation isn’t the only thing that’s been stressing people out. Stress levels have risen 3% in the past year alone. Many people feel like they are not equipped to handle the stress of family responsibilities and money issues. 24 percent of adults are now reporting levels of extreme stress (8 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10), compared to 18 percent just two years ago.

Those who live in cities are also significantly more stressed than those who live in the suburbs or in rural areas. Lack of downtime or time away from constant bad news makes it difficult for people to recover from stressful events.

Stress’ Effects on Your Health

Rising stress levels are not a good sign for those who are trying to improve their health. There are dozens of ways in which stress can impact your body. In fact, as a medical community, we likely do not yet know all of the effects stress can have on us.

More holistic approaches to health estimate that stress can impact us in more ways that we have research to support. Along with external stressors, our beliefs about the world around us and ourselves can cause significant stress.

In a study of more than 28,000 individuals, Health Psychology found that higher levels of stress were often connected to a worsened quality of health.

When we are stressed, our bodies releases the hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine into our systems. They are meant to create a number of reactions in the body, including rapid breathing and heart rate and taking blood away from digestive functions.

Being stressed triggers what is known as the fight or flight response and releases the stress hormones that once helped our ancestors flee from very real and present danger. Unfortunately, when your body is in this mode for too long, (which is what happens when we let the stress build up) it can lead to a number of disorders in the nervous, digestive, and immune system.

Can Stress Make You Sick? 2

Here are some more details on how being exposed to stress hormones for too long can mess with your body.

Stomach and Digestive Issues

The digestive system is often thought of as the second brain, as it has its own specialized nervous system. The enteric nervous system and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system make up the autonomic nervous system. The latter is responsible for regulating life-sustaining functions like blood pressure, body temperature, breathing, and heartbeat.

The enteric nervous system relies on the same kinds of cells found in the brain and spinal cord. This connection often causes digestive issues.

As many as 70% of people are affected by gastrointestinal issues at some point in their lives. However, many individuals do report seeing relief with their stomach issues after going in to see a psychologist to learn stress management techniques.

Stress has been linked to causing, or at least worsening, the following gastrointestinal disorders:

  •  Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, and functional dyspepsia)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease
  • Peptic Ulcer Disease

Memory Loss and Difficulty Concentrating

Have you ever felt too stressed to think clearly? You’re not alone. Pressure makes it difficult for your brain to access areas responsible for logical thinking and decision making.

Excess levels of cortisol can cause the hippocampus to shrink, which is a part of the brain responsible for memory and spatial navigation. Constant stress can keep the fight or flight mode on, which makes it difficult to be logical when it comes to decision making.  Stress can literally change the synapses in your brain, impacting learning and memory making, and even contributing to developing stress related mental disorders like PTSD.

The hippocampus is extremely susceptible to stress hormones, making it more likely to cause issues for the state of your memory. If you find it hard to remember names, frequently forget about appointments you’ve made, or have a hard time focusing at work or school, chances are good that your stress levels are too high.

Compromised Immune System

Have you ever gone through a particularly stressful period of your life, only to find you get sick as soon as the stress lets up? You’re not alone. In fact, studies have found that many students have a lower white blood cell count during finals, which makes it difficult for their bodies to fight off infections and illness.

Persistent stress leaves your body vulnerable to disease and illness. Along with causing dietary discomfort, stress can enlarge your adrenal gland and shrink your lymph nodes. It also causes inflammatory reactions in your body, as your systems are expecting to fight off invaders. When your body is constantly trying to fight off inflammation, it is left with fewer resources with which to fight infections and illness. Thus, you’re more susceptible to catching whatever bug is going around.

Studies have also shown that once particularly intense periods of stress have lessened, the body is more prone to pain flare ups and a sudden appearance of symptoms.

Once your body has been flooded with an abundance of stress hormones, coming down from that excitement isn’t always easy. This can include a decrease in dopamine levels, immune system suppression, and an increase in perception of pain.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Health

After hearing about all of the ways stress can impact your health, you might feel intimidated or discouraged. However, there are many things you can do to lessen the amount of stress in your life.

The best thing you can do is to take a preventative approach. If you stop stress levels from becoming extreme, you’re less likely to go through a painful and rapid decompression that has negative effects on your body.

Take on Fewer Responsibilities
If you feel like you don’t have enough time to meet all of your obligations, chances are you need to learn how to tell people no. You only have so much time in a day, and it’s not going to help anyone if you run yourself into the ground.

Seek Out Exercise and Movement
Exercise is a great way to increase the amount of endorphins in your brain. It’s also a great way to release some of that pent up stress. If you’re experiencing extreme stress, more intense levels of exercise can help you deal with it. However, you don’t need to have a hard workout in order to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Even just walking for 30 minutes a day can lower your stress levels.

Find Relaxation Throughout Your Day

There are many ways to relax and unwind. Taking even just a few minutes each day for relaxation can help prevent stress build up and make you more capable of dealing with stressors that come with everyday life.

Eat Nourishing Foods

Many people tend to turn to comfort foods when they are stressed. These include foods that are high in sugar, salt, starch, and empty calories. Most comfort foods don’t provide the nutrients our bodies need to continue functioning at top performance. Eating foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients will help give your body the energy it needs to deal with increased demands without putting you through the blood sugar crash that comes from junk food.

Use Spire to Change Your Breathing Habits
Breathing is a great way to help reduce your stress. It’s also one of the easiest and cheapest ways to go about dealing with the worries you face every day. Spire was designed to help you become more aware of your breathing patterns, giving you a heads up when you’ve been tense for too long. This wearer found that being aware of his breathing patterns made it easier for him to stay calm throughout the day.

Check out the science behind Spire here!

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Spire is dedicated to helping you live a happier, healthier lifestyle with an easy-to-use device for mindful breathing techniques. Learn more about the benefits of breath-tracking at Spire.io.

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Anxiety, Spire, Stress

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