Chronic Stress and Health: How Stress Affects Your Mind and Body

By Val Silver

The relationship between emotions, stress and health it is so clear that it is one of the few health keys experts agree on.

Chronic stress can damage уоur lоng-tеrm hеаlth and diminish your sense of well-being. While it is natural tо experience a measure of tension and worry whеn dеаlіng wіth every day life, work, and relationships, іt’ѕ when ѕtrеѕѕful feelings plague you day after day, week after week that it disrupts your body processes and increases your rіѕk оf dеvеlоріng сеrtаіn mental and physical illnesses.

The link between stress and health is so strong that researchers estimate that stress related illnesses account for upwards of 80% of non-genetic health problems. If you expand your view of stress to include the burden of chemical toxins, unhealthy lifestyles and fake foods on our minds and bodies, in addition to mental distress, the number gets pretty close to 100%. 

Chronic, or long-term stress of any kind, not only contributes to your risk of contracting a disease, it can speed the progression of illnesses you already have and make them worse.

Mental, Physical, and Environmental Stress Factors

A variety of internal and external factors influence how humans experience the effects of stress in conscious and unconscious ways. 

Mental, physical, and environmental stress factors play a role in cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety, AIDS, aging and auto-immune disease. By depressing the immune system, chronic distress increases the likelihood of contracting a viral or bacterial infection.

What people commonly label 'stressful' are those thoughts, beliefs, events and circumstances that disturb them mentally and emotionally. Whilte it is true that this is one level of stress, from a wellness perspective, it is also wise to consider other types of stressors that pose very real health threats.  

Emotions Stress and Health

Chronic mental and emotional stress exert a powerful, negative influence on your physical health. You have probably noticed that after a long stint of worrying or overwork, you come down with a cold or flu. If t goes on long enough, you may even see yourself aging before your eyes. You may have also noticed that it can take months for your energy level to get back to normal.

  • Dr. Hamer, developer of the German New Medicine, noted that the connection between mental stress and health is so strong that he could trace every cancer case he studied, including his own, to an emotional trauma that occurred up to three years before the diagnosis.
  • Anxiety, a physiological response to feeling threatened, has been linked with increased inflammatory cytokine levels in the body. This acts like a double-edged sword because you feel more anxious when the body is inflamed. This inflammation also weakens the immune system's response to antigens, making you more susceptible to viruses and other undesirable microbes. Calming anxious feelings helps reduce this inflammation and cortisol levels. 
  • Churning thoughts and high levels of stress hormones can make you have sleepless nights because you feel worried and anxious or down in the dumps.  When you continue to feed this cycle, you may find yourself in a spiral that seems impossible to turn around. What may start as normal worry can grow into anxiety, panic attacks, and/or chronic insomnia. What begins as the blues can spiral down into clinical depression.

The relationship between emotions, stress and health is evident in animals as well as people. It is so common for animals and fish fed kept in cramped quarters to become ill that they have to spend their lives on antibiotics.

Conditions worsened by mental stress include:

  • Asthma - Emotional distress, cigarette smoke and allergens cause flare ups. 
  • Diabetes - Stress raises blood sugar directly as well as increasing cravings for sugar spiking carbohydrates.
  • Obesity - Stress causes you to eat more, especially carbohydrates and excess cortisol contributes to belly fat deposits. Emotional eating during times of distress can make you pack on the pounds and eat too much junk food.
  • GI problems - Your digestive system slows when you are stressed which can exacerbate GERD, indigestion, IBS, and ulcers.
  • Premature aging - The effects of stress on telomeres, the end caps protecting your chromosomes, to shorten quicker. Studies suggest this can cause you up to 17 years of life, not to mention looking and feeling older, and being more susceptible to stress related illnesses.
  • Fatigue and exhaustion - When your energy is fueling the flight/fright/freeze response on an ongoing basis, it uses up your body reserves and wears you out instead of being able to fuel your vitality and zest for life. 
  • Auto-immune disorders - Chronic stress not only suppresses your immune system, but over time it can cause it to malfunction and turn on your own body. Eating foods you are sensitive to can also stress your immune system.
  • Cardiovascular issues - When you are stressed your blood vessels constrict, limiting blood flow. The adrenaline makes your heart pump harder and faster. Experiencing a sudden onset of mental distress expressed by rage or other strong emotion can lead to heart attack or chest pains. 
  • Colds, flu, other viruses, and infections - Unrelenting stress plays havoc with your immune system, making it easy for microscopic invaders to take up residence in your body. If your immune system is impaired, infections will last longer and be more severe. Read tips for optimizing your immune system here.

Mental health is also negatively affected by long-term stress on the mind and body. 

Hitting the stress button too often wears you out mentally and physically. It can make you feel overwhelmed, incompetent, and powerless. Too much distress can erode your confidence and self-esteem.

Is it any wonder that there is so much emphasis on the relationship between stress and health and the importance of stress relief? 

stress and health

Physical Stress Factors

Sometimes, what we think is good for our bodies, isn't. For example, excessive physically demanding exercise can put too much stress on the body, even if you enjoy the activity. A moderate amount of physical stress is beneficial. It tones the cardiovascular system and the muscles. Too much exertion depletes your energy, strains your system, and may promote illness. Research shows that long distance running scars to the heart.

Take the example of an ex-aerobics teacher I met a while back. Even though she enjoyed teaching aerobics, it began to take a toll on her as she got older. She often felt tired and unwell.  When she switched to yoga, she began to thrive. For her, aerobics was too physically stressful. Other people thrive on this kind of intense exercise.

Eating lots of fake foods devoid of nutrients and full of sugar and trans-fats cause your body to cope by spiking insulin, using up nutrients needed for growth, repair, and detoxifying, and fighting free radical damage. That puts stress on your pancreas, digestive system and elimination system.

Other physical stress factors include not getting enough sleep or disrupted sleep on a regular basis, pushing yourself to keep going when your body is tired or sick, exposing your body to electro-smog and chemicals, and mental distress.

During times of mental stress, the body produces high levels of cortisol instead of producing cell-repairing DHEA. Too much cortisol causes higher blood sugar, suppressed immunity, and constricted blood flow to the torso.

Environmental and Chemical Stress

You likely live in an environment full of electro-magnetic fields complemented with thousands of chemicals making their way into your body through your food, water and air supply. You may have a mouth full of mercury fillings releasing vapors every time you brush, bite down and eat. This out gassing goes on for years and years.

The high level of electro, environmental, and chemical toxicity from these combined sources of bodily stressors is inescapable. 

Having to deal with these pollutants puts a demand on the lungs, organs of elimination, and cells that have to function in a less than optimal environment. What is especially damaging is that these health harmers may go unnoticed in the body until the damage is done.

Eco-friendly living helps you minimize your exposure to these toxic stressors. Good for you, good for your family, good for the planet. 

Less obvious types of environmental stress include seeing litter and clutter in your home and outdoor spaces. The constant loud and intermittent sounds of noise pollution, especially when they are unpleasant, causes tension in the mind and body. Ditto for sitting under florescent lights. If you have ever heaved a sigh of relief when the background noise or the lights turned off, that's a sure signal that you were being stressed by it, maybe without even knowing it. 

Combine all this physical stress with frustration, worry, fears, anxiety, and overwhelm and you have a recipe for stress and health linked maladies. 

environmental stress and health, traffic air pollution

Environmental and chemical stress related illnesses

Stress-related illnesses from pollutants in the environment occur when our cells are not able to function properly due to the many chemicals in our food, air, water and living environments. This creates a toxic environment for them to live in and inhibits optimal functioning. Once in a while, your body can deal with these toxins without ill effects, but when it has to constantly try to cope with what hurts it, cells will eventually malfunction in more susceptible organs or systems.

Silent stress factors such as DNA damaging radiation, electro-magnetic waves, and herbicide and pesticide-laden foods put a lot of stress on the body and organs of elimination. Air pollution is a risk factor for heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory infections, and lung cancer.  

Did you know that infants are born with hundreds of chemicals already in their bodies? Is it any wonder that so many children get cancer and other serious diseases?

When you add in a diet devoid of nutrients needed to detoxify and nourish, unhealthy toxic substances such as alcohol and cigarettes, poor sleep habits, and lack of exercise (or too much exercise), you put an added strain on body organs and systems. 


Stress and Health Related Pages

In this series of articles, you will explore how distress affects you in mind and body. 

  • Learn what happens in your mind and body once a mental stress trigger is experienced and the stress response occurs.
  • Read about the main causes of stress. It is no surprise that challenging situations and people can cause you to react. So can new positive experiences.  Your body can also go into distress because of physical challenges, which of course affect your mind. 

Many of the long-term health-harming effects of stress on health are the result of chronically elevated levels of cortisol and diminished DHEA hormone. In the short term, your body can handle this natural response, but it is not designed to be triggered on a continual basis as is common in modern day living.

Over time, this link between stress and health can and does cause physical and mental conditions such as premature aging, anxiety, heart disease, obesity and more. 

Understanding how stress affects your well-being is the first step to alleviating it. Reducing your levels of distress is one of the very best things you can do for your health.

You will see this advice echoed across this site - to get well and stay well you must do all you can to relax and protect yourself from all kinds of damaging stress. 

Do everything possible to detox your life of mental and physical toxins,  which are major sources of stress and health conditions of many kinds. Your health will thank you.

Chronic Stress and Health page updated 11/2020

Source:10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix

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