Table of Contents
By Jigar Patel, Founder of Health-e
Stress, a complex interplay of emotional, mental, and physical tension, is a response that humans experience in the face of various stimuli. These stimuli can be external dangers or internal conditions like anxiety. Sweating, headaches, dizziness, and trembling are some of the possible side effects of stress. While stress can sometimes be a natural and helpful response to a threat, chronic stress can have serious repercussions on our overall well-being if left unaddressed.
When confronted with a stressful situation, the body initiates a cascade of hormonal changes. These hormones prompt the heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to constrict temporarily, leading to a spike in blood pressure. Stressful events can set off a chain reaction of physical symptoms. Soon after adrenaline floods the body, breathing and heart rate accelerate, and blood pressure rises, triggering the body’s “fight or flight” response to deal with the stressor appropriately. In this article, we will explore the profound impact of stress on our vital signs and delve into four ways it affects our overall health.
1. Elevated Blood Pressure
The temporary increase in blood pressure during the fight-or-flight response is normal. However, chronic stress can lead to persistently high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease. Therefore, it is essential to adopt effective strategies to manage blood pressure and reduce the impact of stress on cardiovascular health.
2. Respiratory Changes
In times of stress, the body activates numerous muscles to remain alert. This causes oxygen-rich blood to be rapidly supplied to various body parts, leading to faster and heavier breathing. Monitoring vital signs like respiration rate during these moments can provide valuable insights into an individual’s stress levels and physiological response. For those with respiratory conditions like asthma or emphysema, stress can trigger attacks or worsen symptoms, making the observation of respiration rate even more crucial for early detection and management of potential health issues.
3. Impact on Nervous and Immune Systems
Chronic stress disrupts the delicate balance of various hormones, such as cortisol, dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin, which profoundly affects the nervous and immune systems. The immune system’s ability to fight off disease-causing microbes is compromised under stress, making individuals more susceptible to common colds, flu, and other infections. Moreover, stress exacerbates symptoms in those with autoimmune disorders like lupus and inflammatory bowel disease. On the mental health front, stress can lead to irritability, anxiety, depression, and even trigger addictive behaviours. Cognitive functions may also be impaired, leading to worry, forgetfulness, disorganization, and poor judgment.
Stress disrupts the sleep cycle, causing insomnia, nightmares, and a vicious cycle of nervousness and ill health. Additionally, people under stress often experience recurrent headaches throughout the day.
4. Cardiovascular Disease
Although stress alone might not directly cause heart disease, chronic stress can contribute to worsened heart health outcomes. The “fight or flight” response elevates the heart rate and constricts blood vessels due to stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Prolonged exposure to this state, as seen in chronic stress, can damage the heart and cardiovascular system. Coping mechanisms like excessive eating or drinking, which some resort to in response to stress, can further contribute to cardiovascular disease.
How to Reduce Stress?
It is crucial to adopt healthier ways to manage stress, rather than turning to temporary relief through overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, or tobacco use. Effective stress-reduction techniques include exercise, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, sufficient sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet. Exercise not only reduces stress but also improves energy levels and mood, contributing to overall well-being.
If you find it challenging to identify the sources of your stress or if the effects of stress persist, consulting with a doctor is advisable. They can help identify the causes and suggest coping techniques, possibly referring you to a licensed therapist or counsellor for further assistance. If constant stress manifests as sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, seeking immediate medical help is crucial. Listening to your body’s signals and recognizing when you need help coping with stress can pave the way for a long, healthy, and fulfilling life.
Jigar Patel is the Founder of Health-e, a HealthTech app that simplifies health records management along with providing personalized and preventative healthcare solutions. Although he has 20+ years of operations and management experience in the EPC domain, Jigar’s true passion lies in making healthcare simpler, faster and more accessible for doctors and patients alike. He strongly believes that people need to be empowered to participate in their own healthcare and is constantly thinking of ways to build this into his app. He loves to keep things simple be it in life, product design, his work or the content he develops. Being married for 10 years and having 2 kids have taught him that perspective matters, so you can always count on him to share new perspectives on various topics.