Recent studies have revealed that the United States is among the most stressful places in the world to live. People are stressing about everything from the price of gasoline to another day at a job the hate. We need to relax and that’s not just a wishful thought, the truth is stress is killing people.
The repercussions from stress include elevated cortisol levels and inflammation that can wear us out, from the cellular level on up to our major biological systems. In the cardiovascular system, chronic stress and stress-related disorders, such as anxiety and depression, increase the risk for heart disease, although scientists are not entirely sure why. High blood pressure and cardiovascular health may be influenced stress when combined with unhealthy behaviors, including overeating and smoking. Sudden, intense stress, such as the death of a partner, can rapidly weaken the heart, possibly because of a surge of stress hormones. The phenomenon is called broken heart syndrome.
The digestive system can be adversely affected by stress. Since the brain is in constant communication with the digestive tract, chronic stress is commonly associated with painful gastrointestinal issues. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are also more likely to suffer from stress-related psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression.
Your immune system can also fall victim to stress. It is known that vaccines are less effective when we’re stressed and wounds take longer to heal. Stress even makes us more vulnerable to the common cold.
Stress can even make you gain weight, which can have the added effect of giving you more stress. High cortisol levels brought on by stress boost the amount of fat around the belly. Extra abdominal fat may increase the risk for diabetes, which in turn may impair the stress response in the brain.
It may not be possible to get rid of stress entirely as it’s just part of life, but we can at least be aware of it and try to relax more.