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How Stress Develops Chronic Disease Back
Have you ever heard the old adage, “The number one root of all illness, as we know, is stress?” While that may not be completely correct, it is widely known that stress not only complicates many health problems, it can actually cause disease that is long lasting. Unfortunately, as we age, our body’s ability to handle stress gradually breaks down.
Stress Can Be Both Good and Bad
Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress puts our bodies into a reactionary motion. Dr. Kenneth Hamby, MD says that stress is “a physiological response that heightens awareness and prepares the body to confront or flee a perceived threat.” Stress at appropriate times and levels helps us to accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can boost memory, and it provides a vital warning system to our brains to release chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. Ideally, when stress passes, our hormone levels return to normal and our body functions drop to normal levels.
When stress becomes chronic or too intense, our bodies remain in a “fight-or-flight” mode which weakens our immune systems. This may lead to chronic disease, anxiety, depression, digestive and sleep impairments, memory and concentration problems, weight gain, and even heart disease. Dr. Hamby says that “when you live with chronic stress, your body never gets that signal to relax. It’s in a constant state of elevated heart function and higher blood pressure, and it puts a lot of wear on itself.”
Coping With Stress
People tend to find coping mechanisms to help them get through a stressful situation or experience. Many people tend to eat unhealthy foods, smoke, drink alcohol excessively, or live more sedentary; which are all risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. When we experience physical and/or emotional stress as we age, the effects are more taxing on our bodies.
It is possible to reduce and manage stress in our later years. Many seniors exercise and keep active, stay connected with friends and family, and find a purpose beyond themselves such as volunteering or community involvement to avoid chronic stress. A study by Yale University found that people who feel good about themselves as they get older live about seven and a half years longer than “glass half empty” types. Having a positive outlook on life helps us deal with stress better while increasing our will to live a strong, happy life.