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Chronic Stress Can be a Pain In the Neck, among other things

Posted Apr 30 2010 12:00am
Yesterday, our company had a “stressful” day- One of our customers did not receive a pillow and she was very angry. Shouting, yelling, raising her voice, using very bad words…you get the picture. A pillow that was supposed to be in California arrived in Tennessee… What a royal pain in the neck. Our shipping department went into overdrive to get this customer’s pillow to her as soon as possible.

Even I got stressed out. I couldn’t sleep, I could feel my heart racing as I was talking to my customer,  I paced back and forth and worried and worried. Each one of our customers is very important to us, and when someone gets this angry, it really rattles you and makes you wonder. Each and every customer should be taken care of properly, and we were going to do whatever we had to do to make her happy. We were stressed, she was stressed, so much stress going around. It just cannot be good for us to be this stressed.

A recent article I read by Hetal Gandhi, MD confirmed that chronic stress is not a good thing, and linked to health problems. A stressful situation like that affects our physical health as well, and not in a good way. Stress releases a hormone called adrenaline. This increases our heart rate. It also increases cortisol, which increases blood pressure and the amount of blood sugar in our system. This “fight and flight” response is our parasympathic system working and its going into overdrive helping us deal with what is causing our stress.

When I first learned about the parasympathetic system in biology class, I remember the text book used an analogy- imagine if you were running away from a bear- your body would go into a survival mode to keep you safe. But is that the real world? I think not. We may have had a one time stressful situation, like the one we described above - but these days most people’s source of stress can be prolonged. Stressors such as a demanding boss, an annoying family member, and sales calls (telemarketers) at dinner. Don’t forget about road rage. I have seen that too many times. Today, the "stressors" in our lives are more likely to be prolonged, continual irritants, and our bodies have less recovery time between one stressful episode and the next. This lack of "down time" between periods of stress can adversely impact our health.

According to Dr. Gandhi, It affects us negatively when we are constantly under stress. A constant supply of adrenaline, and cortisol in our bodies is not good. This is known as chronic stress. Not being able to recover from one situation to the next, can cause more health problems. In fact, Chronic stress has been linked to health problems such as,
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • cardiovascular problems
  • headaches and stomach pain
  • depression
  • weakened immune system
  • neck pain and back pain

Dr. Ghandi goes on to explain how stress can affect our heart, our immune system, even our sleep. Chronic stress long term can also cause heart disease such as damage to the walls of the arteries can cause an increased chance of heart attack. Stress can also cause blood clots, abnormal heartbeat and even heart failure. Finally, stress related hormones affect the immune system decreasing the ability of the body to fight off disease. Research has shown that people under continual stress get colds and flu more often, and heal more slowly after being injured. The continual tension in the muscles when you are stressed can lead to neck, shoulder and low back pain. And stress can further inflame joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis .

According to Dr. Ghandi, “Stress can make pre-existing conditions worse, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). People with asthma who are under extreme stress can experience more severe and frequent asthma attacks, because chronic stress prompts the body to release the hormones that dilate blood vessels, intensifying the lungs' inflammatory response, and constricts the airways.

Stress shows up in other ways, as well. It is one of the primary contributors to skin conditions like acne, as well as psoriasis, a chronic skin condition and autoimmune disease characterized by itchy, red, scaly skin and painful joints.

Stress can also cause us to lose sleep, costing us valuable recharging time. While we sleep, the body resets various internal functions lowering blood pressure; rejuvenating muscles; restoring energy; and releasing hormones that regulate appetite, internal organ function, our immune system, and tissue growth and repair. Insufficient sleep also inhibits our ability to effectively deal with the stress we encounter during the day.”

How to Deal with Stress in A Healthy Way
  • Engage in Physical Activity - Walk, swim, play tennis, belly dancing. There is so much out there for exercise, just do something you are comfortable with. Regular exercise helps your brain to produce endorphins, the hormones that elevate your mood and make you feel good. Exercise also distracts you from thinking negative thoughts, gives you more energy, and lose weight hopefully.
  • Be a Social Butterfly- Having friends and family to talk to can be a big stress reliever.
  • Relaxation is important- Qi jong, Tai Chi, Hot Yoga, breathing exercises, silent meditation
  • Get Proper Sleep - Our bodies need 8-9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Talk to someone (professional) – Getting someone to listen to you and to your problems without interruption can help you. Plus, they don’t know you personally so there won’t be any judgement, and you can freely talk about what is causing you stress in your life.
  • Eat some dark chocolate. Dr. Ghandi explains a recent study at the Nestle Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, and published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that eating the equivalent of one medium-sized dark chocolate bar (1.4 ounces) each day for two weeks decreased the level of the stress hormone cortisol and other fight-or-flight hormones in patients with high anxiety. The health benefits of dark chocolate, include improved insulin sensitivity, reduced blood pressure, and improved mood.
  • Learn how to effectively manage stress for the good of your long-term health.
Chronic Stress Is Linked to Health Problems by Dr. Hetal Ghandi
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