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Why Does Chronic Stress Tend to Cause Health Problems or Make Them Worse?

man-stressed-outMany people in this modern day and age are extremely stressed out. That’s no surprise—they’re coping with a seemingly endless list of responsibilities that starts with work and family and grows from there. At the same time, relatively few adults living with substantial amounts of stress take constructive steps (such as visiting a chiropractor, getting a massage or meditating) to alleviate it. This can result in harmful, sometimes severe health difficulties. In fact, WebMD estimates that 43% of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. Chronic stress (different from acute or temporary stress) tends to cause or amplify health problems in these ways:

  • Stress can cause backaches and muscle pain. Stress-related back pain is very real, and treating it with a combination of chiropractic care and massage therapy can be much more effective (as well as safer and less expensive) than resorting to surgery or painkillers.
  • Stress can cost you sleep. Sleep is one of the most vital elements of health, and not getting enough of it can cause serious problems such as depression, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Stress can reduce the quantity and quality of sleep you get every night, robbing your body and mind of sleep’s healing properties.

 

  • Stress can trigger or worsen a wide variety of mental health problems. Stress can cause or amplify any number of psychological and emotional issues, including anxiety, depression, irritability and personality changes.

  • Stress can lead to negative coping behaviors and destructive habits. Many people experiencing lots of stress will self-treat with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Much of the time, this pattern of behavior will only make a bad situation worse. Instead of helping the body release stress, these substances only serve to keep the body in a stressed state. Other people develop eating disorders, either overeating or not eating much at all. Both patterns can have serious physical and psychological complications related to nutrition and self-esteem.

So why does chronic stress do this to the human body? The answer lies in our physiological reactions to unnerving or unpleasant situations, many of which originally evolved to help us cope with short-term physical dangers. Stress can trigger a variety of “fight or flight” responses in our nervous, circulatory, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems that are designed to give our bodies a temporary performance boost—heightening our senses to make us more alert, providing additional strength and endurance, and even dulling our sense of pain. However, our bodies also pay a price for this performance boost, especially if the flight or fight responses are left “switched on” for extended periods of time.

Unfortunately, today’s modern stresses—related to professional struggles, financial insecurity, marriage problems and child rearing—tend to play out over days, weeks, months, and even years, not over a few minutes. This type of chronic stress can cause at least some of the body’s fight or flight responses to remain switched on longer than they should be, triggering a variety of potential health problems.

  • The chemicals epinephrine (aka adrenaline) and cortisol, released in times of stress, are both harmful at high levels for extended periods of time.
  • Stress hormones cause the liver to release more blood sugar, which can put an individual at risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Stress can cause respiratory problems, increasing the risk of hyperventilation and upper-respiratory infections.
  • Long-term stress can cause your arteries to narrow and your cholesterol levels to rise, raising the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and heart disease.
  • Ongoing stress has repercussions for your immune system too, slowing down your body’s healing processes, making you more susceptible to infection, and even causing unpleasant skin conditions such as acne, hives, and eczema.
  • Lastly, long-term stress can play havoc with your musculoskeletal system. Stressing out tends to produced sustained tension throughout the body that can cause headaches as well as neck, shoulder, and back pain. Chronic stress may even increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis.

If you or someone you care about suffers from chronic stress, it’s important to find constructive ways of managing the pressure and avoiding the physical, psychological and emotional toll it can take.  Your chiropractor can help!  Call or visit our office today!

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