Why Chronic Psychological Stress Produces Chronic Body Stress
How a Stressed-Out Mind Can Produce a Stressed-Out Body
Chronic psychological stress is not the only cause of stress. How you think about your life can be a powerful stressor that creates stressed-out thoughts. But stress doesn’t end with your thoughts.
Your stress-inducing thoughts also have the power to create chronic body stress. Chronic stress affects every part of you, including your mind, your emotions, and especially your body.
Chronic body stress can take the form of inflammation, high blood pressure, colds, insomnia, heart attacks, and diabetes, to name a few of the possible consequences that stressed-out thinking can have on your body.
Read more to find out how a stressed-out mind can lead to a stressed out body:
Stress Doesn’t Stay in Your Head
Anxiety over a project at work… a marital spat… financial trouble… health problems… the list of potential stressors is endless, but wherever your stress is coming from, it likely starts in your head.
An inkling of worry might soon grow into an avalanche of anxiety. It might keep you up at night, your mind racing with potential “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios. Worse still, if the problem is ongoing, your stressed-out state may become your new normal — extra stress hormones, inflammation, and all.
While beneficial if you’re actually in imminent danger, that heightened state of stress – the one that makes your survival more likely in the event of an attack, for instance – is damaging over time.
The thoughts in your head are only the beginning or, perhaps more aptly, are the wheels that set the harmful mechanism known as chronic stress into motion – and, once spinning, it’s very easy to spiral out of control. As reported in Science News:
Stress research gained traction with a master stroke of health science called the Whitehall Study, in which British researchers showed that stressed workers were suffering ill effects.
Scientists have since described how a stressed brain triggers rampant hormone release, which leads to imbalanced immunity and long-term physical wear and tear.
Those effects take a toll quite apart from the anxiety and other psychological challenges that stressed individuals deal with day to day.
Stress: It’s Not Just in Your Head
You know the saying “when it rains, it pours”? This is a good description of chronic stress in your body, because it makes virtually everything harder. The term psychological stress is, in fact, misleading, because no stress is solely psychological… it’s not all in your head.
Let’s say you lose your job or are struggling from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from abuse you suffered as a child. Excess stress hormones are released, including cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Your stress response becomes imbalanced; it’s not shutting off.
Your immune system suffers as a result, and epigenetic changes are rapidly occurring. The stress is triggering systemic low-grade inflammation, and suddenly your blood pressure is up, your asthma is flaring, and you keep getting colds.
That cut on your leg just doesn’t seem to want to heal, and your skin is a mess. You’re having trouble sleeping and, on an emotional level, you feel like you’re nearing burnout.
Stress is very much like a snowball rolling down a mountain, gaining momentum, gaining speed and growing until suddenly it crashes. That crash, unfortunately, is often at the expense of your health.
Stress Increases Heart Attack Risk by 21-Fold
Police officers clearly face amplified stress on the job, and researchers found they were 21 times more likely to die of a heart attack during an altercation than during routine activities. This isn’t entirely surprising until you compare it to heart-attack risk during physical training, which increased only seven fold.
The difference in physical exertion between the two circumstances likely doesn’t account for the increased risk… it’s the level of stress being experienced that sends heart attack risk through the roof.
More heart attacks and other cardiovascular events also occur on Mondays than any other day of the week. This “Monday cardiac phenomenon” has been recognized for some time, and has long been believed to be related to work stress.
During moments of high stress, your body releases hormones such as norepinephrine, which the researchers believe can cause the dispersal of bacterial biofilms from the walls of your arteries. This dispersal can allow plaque deposits to suddenly break loose, thereby triggering a heart attack.
Stress contributes to heart disease in other ways as well. Besides norepinephrine, your body also releases other stress hormones that prepare your body to either fight or flee. One such stress hormone is cortisol.
When stress becomes chronic, your immune system becomes increasingly desensitized to cortisol, and since inflammation is partly regulated by this hormone, this decreased sensitivity heightens the inflammatory response and allows inflammation to get out of control. Chronic inflammation is a hallmark not only of heart disease but many chronic diseases.
Stress Linked to Diabetes and a Dozen Other Serious Consequences
People who grow up in poor socioeconomic conditions have higher levels of inflammatory markers, including interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP). They’re also twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as adults, a risk researchers say is partly due to the elevated inflammation.
People who suffered child abuse also tend to have higher levels of chronic inflammation, as do those who act as caregivers for loved ones. As reported in Science News:
Scientists are now digging deeper, sorting through changes in gene activity that underlie inflammation and receptor shutdown. For example, childhood stress might get embedded in immune cells called macrophages through epigenetic changes — alterations that affect the activity levels of genes without changing the underlying DNA.
Psychologist Gregory Miller of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., suggests that these changes can endow the macrophages with pro-inflammatory tendencies that later foster chronic diseases.
Prolonged stress can also damage your brain cells and make you lose the capacity to remember things. The brain cells of stressed rats are dramatically smaller, especially in the area of their hippocampus, which is the seat of learning and memory.
Read more to find out the most common health conditions that are caused by, or worsened by, stress at Mercola.com. By. Dr. Mercola.
[Original Post October 2, 2015]