No matter who you are, stress is an everyday part of life. Whether it’s physical stress, such as not getting enough sleep, or mental stress, like worrying about an upcoming deadline for work, everyone experiences that feeling of strain in their life.
Unfortunately (not to add anymore stress into your life), prolonged stress can lead to more problems than just feeling worn down at the end of your day. Studies have shown that prolonged stress can increase your risk of getting heart disease, the number one killer of Americans.
To understand why this is, let’s walk through what happens to our bodies when we are stressed. “When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action.
Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus.” HelpGuide
This is called our fight-or-flight response, and it occurs anytime we feel like we’re in a stressful situation. Although these physical responses are meant to protect us from threats, chances are we don’t have to outrun a wooly mammoth or sabertooth tiger anytime soon.
Our bodies instinctive responses to stress that are meant to protect us can actually harm us if it’s constant. “Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are common risk factors for heart disease. This stress can also cause changes that promote the buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries.” Rochester
All that medical jargon doesn’t sound good, does it? Fortunately, there are ways that we can combat the negative effects of stress by simply learning how to manage it better.
Some tried-and-true ways to do this are get plenty of exercise, meditating, or finding a hobby that can quiet your mind (I use crocheting).
Building up a strong emotional support system is also extremely helpful. You can even consult a therapist or another medical professional to come up with a plan of action when stress enters your life. This is especially helpful if you’ve developed unhealthy ways of dealing with stress, such as eating to calm down or excessive use of alcohol.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that this is your health and your life. Although we can’t control everything that is going to happen, we can control how we deal with it and turn it into something beneficial and healthy.