This is a three part series on psychological stress. This blog will outline the consequences of stress and the following two will cover ways to deal with long-term stress.
We live in a time where physiological stress is our greatest enemy. We are costing our country billions of dollars in medical bills because we either don’t recognize it or we feel that we cannot do anything about it (which consequently leads to more stress). No longer is stress just a reaction of the “type A”, work-till-you drop executive. In fact, the lower the socio-economical tier one is in, or the lower ones job position is, the HIGHER level of stress that person is bound to have simply because they have no control over the situation. And this goes for children, too. Many children have physiological problems (allergies, asthma, digestive issues) where undiagnosed stress is at the heart of the problem. Think about it: children are told what to do all day long—at home and at school. Their playtimes are cut dramatically and their homework levels have increased. We are a nation of stressed-out people and we really need to rethink, as a culture, how to reframe the very way we work and learn in order to stay healthy and be a productive member of society.
I think if we all thought about stress for any length of time and the real damage the stress response can do to our bodies, we would work on ways to reduce it. A small amount of stress is helpful and of course when we need our stress response to turn on “high’ in order to run away or fight, it had better be in peak shape. This cannot happen if we are constantly under psychological stress (not to mention physical or chemical). We need our “pilot lights” to run at a 1 or 2 and then go to an 8 or 9 when we need it. Nearly all of us are running at an 8 or 9 on a daily basis. Soon we will have little “fuel” left in our bodies and we will burnout.
Some of the long-term effects of chronic stress:
- Reduces the function of brain cells in the hippocampus (the part of your brain responsible for learning and memory). And if it goes on long enough, kill off these brain cells permanently.
- Causes plague to build up in the arteries potentially resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
- Contributes to weight gain—especially around the belly (which actually contains its own hormones that, in turn, can cause problems).
- Causes our bodies to age faster (through shortening of the telomeres).
- Shuts down our reproductive cycle
- Magnifies any menopausal or andropausal symptoms
- Reduces the immune system so that:
- peptic ulcers can develop by allowing “bad” bacteria to flourish
- wound healing capabilities are limited
- colds, flus, allergies become a constant
- leaky gut is more likely to occur leading to many immunological problems
- one feels constantly fatigued
- constipation and/or diarrhea (think IBS, IBD) can be a constant factor
- Chronic stress is also associated with chronic diseases such as:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- myriad of autoimmune diseases
So, if any of this sounds like you, ask yourself “what level is my “pilot” light running on? “ If it’s above 5, then you have to look at the stress in your life and take actions to reduce it.
Next blog: recognizing stress and taking steps to reduce it.