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How Stress Wrecks Your Health

By    |   Tuesday, 03 March 2015 09:48 AM

Job demands. Family squabbles. Relationship troubles. Financial pressures. All are common causes of stress, with studies showing at least two out of three Americans report experiencing moderate to high levels of it over the past month.
But chronic stress is more than just an aggravating fact of modern life. Stress and anxiety are stealthy killers, with new research showing they can be as hazardous to your mental and physical health as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, and sleep deprivation.

A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that two-thirds of U.S. adults who experience high stress levels feel they have increased in the past year, and 59 percent admit they are not doing enough to manage their stress. The Stress in America survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, also indicated one-third of Americans say it is important to talk with their healthcare providers about stress management, but only 17 percent actually do.

Mary Karapetian Alvord, a Washington, D.C., psychologist and stress specialist, tells Newsmax Health scientific research has strongly linked stress to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and other life-threatening conditions.
"Stress has been around forever so it's not a new phenomenon," says Alvord, a member of the American Psychological Association and adjunct professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "But what we're beginning to understand is that chronic stress can really damage your body over time."
Here’s a look at some the ways stress can harm your health, and how to manage it.
Immune system function, cancer. Stress hinders a person's immune system and increases inflammation in the body — leaving them vulnerable to disease, infection, and other conditions. The body's natural stress-response and immune systems are designed to protect us from immediate harm — via the well-known fight-or-flight reaction. But chronic stress can throw the body's systems out of whack, hindering the immune system, and constant overexposure to stress hormones hikes the risk of cancer and other health problems.
Heart disease: When we're under stress, the region of the brain known as the hypothalamus triggers the release of stress-related hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These boost heart rate and blood pressure, increasing the risk for heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. Former President George W. Bush's heart surgery in 2013 spotlighted the link between stress and heart disease — even long after a person has been in a stressful situation. "People forget that stress is a key risk factor for heart disease," Chauncey Crandall, M.D., one the nation’s top cardiologists, tells Newsmax Health. "Being president of the United States brings with it crazy stress, which often shows up later in the form of heart disease."
Weight gain. Stressful times may make it harder to eat a healthy diet and pushsome to overeat or load up on high-calorie "comfort foods" — sometimes called stress eating or emotional eating. Obesity and overweight can increase the risk of everything from diabetes and heart disease to cancer and depression.
Depression, anxiety, dementia. Stress has a direct impact on mental health, boosting the odds of depression and anxiety. But studies have also shown people who experience high levels of chronic stress in midlife are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia later in light.

Metabolic syndrome, diabetes. People who suffer from chronic stress are at greater risk of developing what is known as metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of conditions — diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood sugar level, obesity, and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing cardiovascular risks. Periods of stress increase production of the hormone cortisol, which can increase the amount of glucose in the blood — a key marker for diabetes.

Hair loss: Three types of hair loss have been linked to stress: alopecia areata (where white blood cells attack hair follicles), telogen effluvium (which causes hair to stop growing), and trichotillomania (extreme hair pulling caused by stress, anxiety, tension, loneliness, or frustration).

Health experts note that it’s impractical to eliminate stress from your life. But there are proven strategies for managing stress that can boost your health.

"For me the bottom line is how can you improve your response to stress?" Alvord notes. "Because stress is always going to be a part of our lives, so how can you reduce it as much as possible and cope with the stresses you can’t eliminate?

"There is a strong mind body connection. It's not like what happens to the body just happens it’s so much directed by what happens in the mind.”

Key strategies for easing stress include:
  • Practice calm. Meditate, try yoga, listen to music, or do something else to calm your mind. Relaxation techniques like these have been shown to boost the immune system.
  • Exercise. Hit the gym, go for a walk, play a game you enjoy. Working out — 30 minutes each day is the recommended guideline — boosts production of the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, endorphins, which improve mood and lower the risk of depression, in addition to combating heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
  • Stay socially active. Meet with friends, relatives, or join an organization that allows you to connect with someone you care about or your community. Alvord suggests building strong support networks, using "positive self-talk" to boost esteem, and getting enough sleep every day can greatly ease stress.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Healthy foods, particularly those rich in omega-3 fatty acids — such as fish and nuts — can help with anxiety and depression. Look for links between what you eat, and when, and stress. If you’re eating when you're stressed and not hungry, find a distraction. Keep comfort foods out of your home or workplace.

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Chronic stress isn’t just an aggravating fact of life. For many, it is a killer, with new research showing it is hazardous to your mental and physical health. Here's what you can do to cope.
stress, health, heart, cancer, diabetes, anxiety, depression, alzheimer
Tuesday, 03 March 2015 09:48 AM
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