Stress Related Illnesses: How Stress Makes You Sick 

By Val Silver

When listing stress related illnesses, one could make a sound argument that, genetic defects aside, illnesses caused by stress of some kind make up just about any ailment you can think of. 

Of course, thinking of the connection between stress and diseases in this way means that we are not just considering the effects of mental stress, but physical stress as well. 

For an example of how stress makes you sick consider this. Ongoing mental stress causes a less active immune system because when your brain perceives danger, your immediate survival is a higher priority than your long-term survival.  While your physical resources are being directed toward fright, flight and freeze, bacteria and viruses have a greater chance of escaping detection by your immune system. A weakened or malfunctioning immune system is behind many health disorders.

How stress contributes to disease

Have you ever had a bout of the flu or a bad cold after several weeks of being really stressed out? If so, you have experienced first hand how stress makes you sick. 

Physical and mental stress have also been linked to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Physical stress related illnesses

Stress-related illnesses from physical causes 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.

In addition, DNA damaging radiation, electro-magnetic waves, food devoid of nutrients needed to detoxify and nourish, unhealthy substances such as alcohol and cigarettes, poor sleep habits, and lack of exercise (or too much exercise) put an added strain on body organs and systems. Once in a while, your body can deal with these things 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.

Combine that physical stress with chronic worry, fears, anxiety, and overwhelm and you have a recipe for stress-related illnesses. 

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.

Several 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 - Research suggests a relationship between heart disease and stress. 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.

stress related illnesses, stress cloud

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.

Continue Reading

There is hope for improving  the negative effects of distress, including stress-related illnesses. 

Familiarize yourself with how stress affects your health and what you can do about it. To keep destructive, chronic mental distress at bay, make natural stress relieving techniques a regular part of your health program.

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