Stress is your body’s natural response to pressure. That pressure may come from a new and unsettling situation, a threat to your self-image, or a feeling of powerlessness. Those are all unpleasant circumstances, so there is little wonder why you dislike the sensation of stress. You do not feel it when everything is going well.
Stress does serve an important purpose. It coincides with a cascade of hormones which help you make split-second decisions. If you were taking out the trash and found a tiger on your front lawn, you become much better off when getting stressed out. The sudden boost to your fight or flight response would give you a better chance of escaping, rather than becoming its breakfast.
Although it is graciously devoid of tigers, the modern world is not without its stressors. So many, that you may feel stressed out far more frequently than you were ever meant to. Just to make matters worse, existing in a perpetual state of fight or flight can be detrimental to your health.
How Stress Causes Chronic Disease
Scientists do not yet fully understand the intricate interplay of hormones and neurotransmitters which causes stress to contribute to chronic disease. Yet they have determined that 75 to 90% of human disease is related to activation of the body’s stress system. Scientists attribute this in part to heightened levels of cortisol. Cortisol causes the inflammation that is common to myriad chronic diseases including atherosclerosis.
“Calm down before you have a heart attack.” This is common advice, but it’s not without a scientific basis. In addition to inflammation, stress can increase cholesterol, blood pressure and heart rate. All three of the previously mentioned contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.
While someone who is living with diabetes does not benefit from heightened cortisol levels, stress can worsen their condition in a different way. Many of us cope with stress by eating junk foods which can exacerbate diabetes. Chronic stress may also make the body more resistant to the effects of insulin. In addition, chronic stress may trigger the onset of type 2 diabetes itself.
Stress can increase the production of amyloid beta amino acids, as well as the deposition of amyloid plaques in the brain. These are two of the best known hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. To make matters worse, elevated cortisol levels are also known to coincide with progressive neurodegeneration.
These are only three examples of how stress can cause or contribute to chronic disease. Stress has further been linked to the development of depression, anxiety, digestive disorders, cancer, insomnia, and several other chronic illnesses.
How Reduced Stress Prevents Chronic Disease
Given all of this, you might conclude that lowering stress should decrease the likelihood of developing a chronic disease. And you would be correct! Techniques which help you to manage stress may reduce your blood pressure in the long term. Additionally, they may improve blood sugar control in those suffering from diabetes. Stress reduction therapy can even reduce the level of cortisol in your bloodstream. The reduction decreases inflammation that triggers or exacerbates so many conditions.
Fortunately, reducing stress does not require invasive surgery. Aside from learning how to better manage stressful responsibilities, you can practice a variety of stress-reducing behaviors. These include taking deep, deliberate breaths in order to relax, getting regular exercise (a natural “stress buster” which boosts endorphin levels), and even sleeping more.
Adopting a healthier mindset will also better equip you to weather stressful situations. Your preferred philosophical outlook might differ, but there is always wisdom to be found in Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Here at Morgan Lane Village, we believe in the importance of helping our residents to lead healthier lives through reduced stress. Residents of our comfortable retirement community no longer have to tend to chores and many other daily responsibilities which can contribute to stress. We also offer regular exercise classes and other relaxing activities, as well as whatever assistance may increase our residents’ comfort. If you would like to know more about how assisted living appreciably reduces stress, then we welcome you to contact us anytime!