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Chronic stress: putting your health at risk

By Family Flavours - Mar 17,2019 - Last updated at Mar 17,2019

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

By the Royal Health 

Awareness Society

People joke about stress but it really is becoming a massive health problem. Think about what you are doing in your life to alleviate stress — not make it worse.

The fight-or-flight response


Since the beginning of time, humans have been endowed with a fierce and powerful weapon. One that made us stronger and more lethal within seconds of spotting a dangerous lion or a venomous snake: pupils would dilate to make us see better and look scarier to our opponent, our cognitive abilities instantaneously sharpened to make better decisions and improve our odds of survival when the situation called for it. This seemingly too-good-to-be-true weapon is called the stress response, and while it is the reason for our survival as a human race, today this two edged sword emerges in daily situations (juggling multiple tasks or at the approach of an important deadline). Now, chronic stress has been named the culprit in a spectrum of health diseases.


Effects of stress on your body


When the human body spots a threat, whether it is an actual tiger or your angry boss dressed in tiger print, the body, through the release of certain hormones, orchestrates a series of reactions carried out by all systems. 

The musculoskeletal system tenses in stressful situations and as the situation passes, the muscle tension is relieved. When the stress is chronic, however, painful conditions develop and you become more prone to tension-type headaches and migraines, and other types of pain in the shoulder, neck and head area.

Other systems responsible for tasks related to the body’s vitality, such as your heart and lungs, react negatively to chronic stress. This manifests clearly in individuals with established diseases, asthmatics, for example, experience an increase in the frequency of their asthma attacks. Since stress causes your heart to beat harder and faster, chronic stress puts you at increased risk for hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

And it does not end there. Those “butterflies” in your stomach upon experiencing stress is only one of the many effects of stress on the gastrointestinal system. Changes in appetite are not uncommon in those suffering from chronic stress, where some avert from food and others do the opposite. In the former instance this can cause malnutrition and in the latter case obesity if sustained for a long time. Acid reflux and heartburn also result from, or are exacerbated by, stress.


Breaking the cycle of stress


Stressed people drink more alcohol, smoke more and eat less nutritious foods than non-stressed individuals. It is a vicious cycle — you may eat, smoke or drink more when stressed yet those unhealthy behaviours only magnify the problem. Stress is a key risk factor in addiction initiation, maintenance and relapse.

Finding ways to cope with stress and prevent it from becoming a daily experience will enable you not only to enjoy life, but also preserve your health. Coping mechanisms can take the shape of daily habits, such as physical, meditative and breathing exercises or listening to soft music. When those mechanisms, however, are not effective, seek professional help to prevent stress from developing into an even more serious health problem.


Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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