Most cases of chronic disease can be linked to stress, even if that stress is more physical than psychological. About two-thirds of doctor’s visits are for stress-related complaints.[SB1]
How does stress causes disease? The body responds to stress by making adrenal hormones (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) that cause the “fight or flight” response. This response raises blood pressure, increases the heart rate, and sends blood to the limbs in preparation for action. The sweaty palms, quickened breathing, and jitters before a job interview, first date, or big test? That’s from stress hormones.
A healthy body quickly returns to normal after a stressful situation. The problem with life today is stress is ongoing and many people never return to “normal.” Chronic financial worries, a stressful job, or a bad relationship keep us locked in fight-or-flight.
Stress doesn’t have to be only related to lifestyle. In fact, stressors to the body are more insidious and can be more damaging. These include a diet high in sugar and starchy foods, not eating enough or eating too much, gut problems, food intolerances, high or low blood sugar, diabetes, anemia, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, and environmental toxins.
How stress damages your body
Unrelenting stress causes continual production of cortisol. Cortisol is known as the aging hormone because it breaks us down more quickly. Chronic high cortisol is linked to:
Symptoms of chronic stress
You might think this is a no-brainer — a symptom of chronic stress is feeling stressed out.
This is true in many, but not all cases. Other lesser-known symptoms that indicate stress is robbing you of health include: constant fatigue, energy crashes, difficulty recovering from stressful events, headaches, trouble falling and staying asleep, trouble waking up, emotional mood swings, sugar and caffeine cravings, irritability, lightheadedness between meals, eating to relieve fatigue, dizziness upon standing, and gastric ulcers.
How to buffer damages of stress
The most important first step in addressing stress to better manage chronic disease is obvious: remove the stressors. This can mean a diet and lifestyle overhaul.
It also means adding in activities that lower stress and release chemicals and hormones that lower inflammation and improve overall health of the body and brain.
These include plenty of sleep, meditation, daily physical activity, hobbies, socializing, laughter, a healthy whole foods diet, avoiding junk foods, and more.
Daily stress is a way of life for the average American. Just the toxic chemicals we encounter in our environment are considerably stressful. Urban life, traffic, raising children, and existing illnesses are examples of potent stressors you can’t simply jettison.