Stress is a part of life to some extent. The problem is that everyone is stressed these days — and for a good reason! We’re constantly inundated with news stories about the latest pandemic and political turmoil. It’s a disquieting world we live in at times. Yet even in our personal environments, we’re all on edge all of the time which is the perfect recipe for chronic stress.
Between the fears and worries in our minds and long lists of to-do’s, we’re always juggling too many things at once. And while occasional stress can help us get prepared or get things done, we can’t let stress become our go-to response!
Chronic stress is a leading health concern in America today because of how it affects all areas of our lives and wellbeing. The amount of stress on our plates is more than we are equipped or meant to handle as human beings. And as long as it persists, chronic stress can have a devastating impact on our physical and mental health.
Here are five alarming facts about stress that you need to know right now.
Chronic stress raises your blood pressure:
The hormones released into the body when under stress impact the cardiovascular system. The heart pumps faster, causing blood vessels to constrict, which raises blood pressure.
While the extra oxygen diverted to the body’s muscles is beneficial in a fight or flight state, it means more work on the heart. When the heart works hard for too long and blood pressure remains raised, it increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
Chronic stress can lead to anxiety and depression:
When we’re chronically stressed, our brains are constantly in a state of panic. This changes how we think and our brains function, leading to more significant long-term changes and conditions like anxiety disorders and depression.
This is because chronic stress can have an overwhelming impact on a person, wearing them down emotionally and physically. Over time it becomes more difficult to overcome bad moods, stay focused, maintain healthy relationships, sleep, and go about a normal daily routine.
Chronic stress can weaken the immune system:
When we’re under constant stress, our bodies are on high alert due to the high production of cortisol (the stress hormone) that suppresses the immune system. This leaves us more susceptible to infections and illness.
Chronic stress can lead to weight gain or weight loss:
We often crave high-fat, high-sugar foods that give us a temporary energy boost under chronic stress. Cortisol suppresses the immune system and increases appetite. This, combined with the fact that stress can lead to changes in metabolism and how our bodies store fat, can result in weight gain.
Conversely, some people may lose weight due to stress. This is because the body’s fight-or-flight response burns through calories and causes a loss of appetite. However, this is usually only temporary and certainly not a healthy way to lose weight.
Chronic stress can impact memory and learning:
The hippocampus is a small, curved structure deep within the brain responsible for memory formation and navigation. When we’re under stress, the hippocampus shrinks in size. This can impact our ability to form new memories and make learning new information harder.
It’s also important to think about this impact of stress from a less scientific perspective. Stress can have the opposite effect if we’re not in a threatening situation where stress commands our full attention. It’s impossible to be fully present when we feel on edge or worried. There aren’t many memories or new pieces of information you can take away from a moment you aren’t all there for.
Taking Steps to Manage Stress
While stress is a normal, helpful physiological reaction in many cases, these situations are few and far between compared to how often we respond from a place of stress.
In other words, when stress becomes chronic, it becomes like a mindset – a frantic approach to how we think and see things. It leaves us in a worse physical and mental state, making it harder to cope; it’s almost ironic considering how helpful stress can be in crucial moments.
No matter how severely it has affected up until now, everyone can and should learn how to manage stress. With the right support and coping mechanisms, you can control your stress instead of letting it control you.