Is Stress Really As Detrimental To Your Health As You Think?

It has been known for many years that stress can affect your health but we are just now beginning to properly understand exactly how stress affects the body. Some of the myths surrounding the subject of stress, such as the fact that stress might give you ulcers, are finally being exposed while others are now being confirmed.

Some of the more obvious affects of stress such as, hypertension, headaches, muscle tension, a rapid heartbeat and digestive problems are easy to recognize and well known, however there are also a few longer-term and potentially serious conditions that can be produced by persistent stress.

Studies that have been done at the National Institutes of Health and at other institutions for example strongly suggest that stress affects the immune system. Interestingly enough these very studies show that the affect on the immune system can be both positive and negative.

Since one definition of stress is that it is merely an individual’s ‘fight or flight’ response to a perceived threat, it can clearly have a positive affect. For instance, it can, trigger the release of chemicals that assist in healing infections caused by bites. That makes sense if you consider just how evolution might have tailored the immune system to deal with such problems.

But, when this response lasts for an extended period of time, the affects may be detrimental and one consequence is that the immune system actually reduces in effectiveness leading to a higher susceptibility to infection and a reduced resistance to flu and other virus induced illnesses.

Another consequence is an overall feeling of tiredness and sometimes depression. When an individual suffers stress for long periods of time then a feedback loop is created between the cause of the stress (the belief that it is not possible to solve the problem that is creating the stress) and its affects. This results in a cycle in which your belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Chronic stress may also impact your health by compromising you circulatory system. When stress hormones which are released by the ‘fight or flight’ trigger are not used up by {some form of physical activity such as fighting an infection|the physical activity of, for example, fighting an infection then they can result in actual physiological stress on the body.

Hypertension hightens the tension on the walls of blood vessels and can result in tiny tears appearing in the blood vessels. When the body reacts to repair these micro-tears, scar tissue can be produced which restricts the blood flow through the vessels.

If stress levels reach very high levels or remain for long enough heart attacks may occur. The likelihood of heart attack is also higher in older individuals or in individuals who carry specific genetic characteristics. As the blood vessels narrow, the heart may well be unable to deliver enough blood and oxygen at moments of high demand.

Doctors have also known for some time that stress can worsen the affects of rheumatoid arthritis and this is also now explained by the affect of stress on the immune system as there is a well documented and proven connection between rheumatoid arthritis and the immune system.

It is important for us all to avoid stress if we are to maintain good health and, luckily, as we begin to gain a clearer knowledge of stress we are also developing various very useful stress relief techniques.

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