Emotional Distress: The Impact Of Chronic Stress On Your Health
Emotional distress speeds up cellular aging. “A wide range of studies have shown that stress caused by things like untreated depression, social isolation and anxiety attacks can speed up the aging process by shortening the length of each DNA strand,” explains Dr Sandrina Haeck, a clinical psychologist. “We now know that chronic phobic anxiety shortens the telomere length in middle-aged and older women,” she adds. “Untreated depression also creates biological changes that accelerate aging and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases.”
Stress and the brain
“High levels of cortisol create long-lasting brain changes. This is because elevated levels of cortisol can result in overproduction of myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal,” says Haeck.
“The hippocampus, which regulates memory and emotions, is known to shrink under extended periods of acute stress. Cortisol can also trigger stem cells to malfunction. This is because chronic stress has the ability to flip a switch in stem cells, inhibiting connections to the prefrontal cortex.” This decreases the number of stem cells that mature into neurons, which might explain why chronic stress affects learning and memory.
Stress and unhealthy lifestyles
According to Haeck, the body responds to the way we think, feel and act (the mind-body connection). When we are distressed, our bodies react in ways that might tell us we are out of balance. Some symptoms that inform us that we are out of balance:
- Back pain, chest pain or headaches;
- Upset stomach or change in appetite;
- Constipation or diarrhea;
- Dry mouth;
- General aches and pains;
- High blood pressure;
- Light-headedness or palpitations;
- Sexual problems;
- Stiff neck; and
- Weight gain or loss.
When we’re stressed, we may not take care of ourselves the way we should. We may stop exercising, eating healthy foods or taking the medications our doctors prescribe. Click here to find out additional ways that stress eventually shortens your lifespan.
“Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body,” explains Haeck. It can cause, or exacerbate, a number of health problems:
- Depression and anxiety;
- Pain of any kind;
- Sleep problems;
- Autoimmune diseases;
- Digestive problems;
- Skin conditions;
- Heart disease;
- Weight problems;
- Reproductive issues; and
- Thinking and memory problems.
Did you know?
43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. 75% to 90% of all doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Simple techniques for stress management
- Positive self-talk.
- Count to five, take a few deep breaths, or walk away from the situation until you have calmed down.
- Try to do at least one thing each day that gives you joy, even if it takes only 10 minutes.
- Learn and practice relaxation skills such as yoga, tai chi or meditation.
- Eat to maintain good gut health.
Chronic emotional distress is hazardous to your health. Take action now so that you can stay healthy and age gracefully.
Click here to find out how you can use breathing to improve your stress levels.