The analysis of numerous pieces of research shows that stress, which is a body response when it feels threatened or challenged, tends to deteriorate already present medical conditions. These include neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and depression. Years of research conclude that inflammation links to stress-related diseases.
One of the major symptoms of chronic diseases is chronic inflammation. And while the pathway between stress and inflammation is not entirely clear, it does exist. If we can analyze and understand how higher stress levels can bring about inflammation around or within our bodies. In that case, we can try to reduce or minimize it before it progresses into a chronic disease.
What Happens When You’re Stressed?
The feeling of stress can trigger a physiological response in our bodies known as the “fight or flight” response. This response prepares the body to either stand and fight or run away from a threat. This is the same response our body creates whenever we are in danger.
Now, let’s look at some ways your body responds to stress.
- The pancreas secretes several hormones, including cortisol.
- Cortisol suppresses unnecessary bodily functions during an emergency, such as digestion or the immune response.
- Cortisol stimulates blood sugar production to supply extra energy to the muscles.
- Cortisol also lowers insulin production and narrows the arteries, causing blood to pump faster to help in the stress response.
- When adrenaline enters the bloodstream, it raises the heart and respiratory rate, allowing more oxygen in and out of the lungs.
- If the body doesn’t meet its energy needs, it will use glycogen (stored glucose) to supply an additional energy boost.
Immune System Response
- Hormones reduce the percentage of lymphocytes, the white blood cells sent out through the body by the immune system.
- This makes the body vulnerable to all kinds of diseases.
- The fight or flight response redirects resources away from functions that the body does not need in a life-threatening situation.
Duration of Response
Usually, the duration of a ‘fight or flight’ response tends to occur for a short period, as the immune system is temporarily down and vulnerable. During this time, factors for inflammation can set in as the body is exposed to stress.
Understanding how stress affects our bodies can help us to manage it more effectively. By practicing stress-reducing activities such as meditation, exercise, or therapy, we can help our bodies to avoid the negative effects of chronic stress.
What Is Inflammation?
Generally, the area becomes inflamed when you injure yourself, like a cut or a wound. This is due to the transfer of white blood cells to the affected area, like a bacteria or virus. Our immune system releases pro-inflammatory cytokines to attack foreign invaders as an inflammatory response. When stress begins to slide into chronic, the cytokines levels in the body become inconsistent, resulting in the body habituating to the never-ending loop of stress in its inflammatory response. Hence the beginning of chronic inflammation.
How does Stress Causes Inflammation?
The body and mind can both be affected by stress when we are faced with challenging situations. When a person experiences stress, their body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. However, chronic or long-term stress can have detrimental effects on the body, including inflammation.
Stress triggers the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are chemical messengers that initiate an immune response. As part of this response can cause an increase in inflammation, leading to chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Inflammation can also worsen symptoms of existing conditions such as asthma and irritable bowel syndrome.
Moreover, stress can disrupt the body’s natural immune response, making it more susceptible to infection. Therefore, managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and seeking professional help if necessary can help reduce inflammation and prevent long-term health consequences.
Chronic Conditions and Stress
Now let’s look at some chronic health condition that worsens under stress.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
It is an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain. Stress can exacerbate Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) symptoms by impairing the cortisol response and triggering the immune system to attack healthy tissues.
It can also interfere with a person’s ability to manage RA effectively, causing fatigue and inflammation. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, seeking support from a mental health professional, and reducing stress in daily life is essential in managing RA symptoms and preventing flares.
Likewise, in stress, your heart pumps harder, and repeating that action for a prolonged period of time increases the risk of atherosclerosis. Stress can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation, leading to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).
Stress can also contribute to the development of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise, which are risk factors for CVDs. Managing stress through exercise, relaxation techniques, and seeking professional help can help reduce the risk of developing CVD. Similarly, you can also make anti inflammatory herbs and spices a regular part of your diet.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
The main target of this disease is the gastrointestinal system. High-stress levels can alter the release of digestive enzymes within your body. Stress can worsen Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and inflammation. Therefore, managing stress through relaxation techniques and seeking support from a mental health professional can improve IBD symptoms.
The Way Forward!
In all, stress isn’t only harmful to your mental well-being but also to your overall health. As you can see from the information above, there’s certainly a connection between the stress you feel and the resulting inflammation. So, try to keep your stress at bay and enjoy a healthy life.