In spite of what many people think, stress isn’t always harmful to health. Stress has two forms: eustress and distress. Eustress is a form of positive energy which makes people feel driven to reach goals. This kind of stress can energize people and improve feelings of positivity. In small amounts, eustress can also boost the immune system, and elevate mood.
When stress is too much
Distress, on the other hand, can be overwhelming. Too much distress can cause serious health problems. This type of stress can also lead to fatal diseases including heart disease, cancer, lung disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and chronic depression. Here are three main areas of health where stress can wreak havoc if a person’s distress levels remain too high for too long.
1. The immune system
The stress hormone corticosteroid suppresses the immune system by lowering the number of white blood cells, which are the ones that fight infection. Corticosteroid can cause inflammation which increases the risk of illness and disease. Stress also affects the immune system by raising the blood pressure.
Stress may have an indirect negative impact on the immune system when the result is that a person turns to unhealthy coping strategies to reduce stress. The most common are drinking alcohol and smoking. Both of these can lead to fatal diseases.
2. The digestive system
Numerous studies show that stress causes the onset or worsening of many digestive conditions. These include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is due to the fact that stress affects the gastrointestinal and systemic immune systems and increases inflammation.
Stress also affects intestinal motility and fluid secretion. This is why many people have bouts of diarrhea or feel a constant need to urinate under stress. While speeding up the passage of material through the intestines, stress can also delay the emptying of the stomach’s contents. The result of this is abdominal cramps and altered bowel movements.
3. The brain
Chronic stress can affect the brain in numerous ways. As well as causing anxiety, stress can affect concentration and make people forgetful. Stress can make some people feel overly emotional and ultimately can lead to depression. Furthermore, stress can create free radicals that can kill brain cells. Stress can even reduce the size of the brain.
Prolonged stress can cause permanent changes in the brain. These changes can result in serious mental health conditions such as mood and anxiety disorders. Chronic stress can also create excess myelin in certain areas of the brain, which has a negative impact on communication.
People who are dealing with stress on a daily basis should try to make some lifestyle changes to reduce stress. These can range from practicing meditation and relaxation exercises to reducing workload or taking a vacation. Even those people who have a hectic lifestyle should try to take out 10-15 minutes each day to unwind. Speak with a healthcare provider for more tips on reducing stress and living a healthy life.