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Can Your Stress Kill You?

by | Jun 2, 2022 | Issue 148, Issues, Lifestyle | 0 comments

Stress is more or less normalized in the lifestyles of most Americans. Whether it's college students or adults in the workplace, most Americans have seemingly accepted stress and seek to...

Stress is more or less normalized in the lifestyles of most Americans. Whether it’s college students or adults in the workplace, most Americans have seemingly accepted stress and seek to cope instead of rejecting stress as a necessary component of their lives. A study in 2017 noted that 71% of people reported at least one symptom of stress over the past month. 

Our willingness to accept stress into our daily lives reveals how little we understand stress’ effect on our lives. Stress is not a benign yet negative emotion; it’s a serious mental illness with serious effects on our physical health. 

 

The Connection between Mental and Physical Health

Mental and physical health are not as separated as we believe. The mind affects the body and vice versa. Nowhere is this truest than with poor mental health and stress. Suffering from long-term or chronic stress can significantly harm one’s physical health. 

Our body is prepared to respond to stress but ultimately is not designed to sustain for long. When under stress, our body releases cortisol and other stress hormones as a response. This is also understood as your body’s “fight or flight” system. However, staying in this “fight or flight” mode can be dangerous for your physical health. Our mental health, particularly our stress levels, severely affects our bodies. 

 

How Stress Harms Your Body 

The adverse effects of stress are often manifested in physical conditions that most of us associate with physical illnesses, from digestive issues to headaches. Indeed, stress can negatively affect nearly every part of your body, including your nervous, respiratory, digestive, muscular and reproductive systems. Chronic stress causes irritability and anxiety, breathing difficulties, soreness in your muscles, or even erectile dysfunction for men and missed periods for women. Furthermore, stress also increases your risk for heart disease.

Stress’s negative impact doesn’t stop at the body’s functional systems. A review by the American Psychological Association noted that high-stress levels are associated with a greater risk of contracting illnesses and a weakened immune system. When we allow stress to take over our lives, we not only incur the physical symptoms but also ravage our immune systems, making it easier for us to contract additional illnesses down the road. 

 

How Stress Affects Your Life Expectancy 

Stress can remove years from your life expectancy. A study of risk factors for life expectancy found that, on average, stress takes about 2.8 years off the life of the average man and 2.3 for the average woman. By comparison, the study noted that the leading causes for men are smoking and diabetes, which take 6.6 and 6.5 years, respectively. 

For the average man, suffering from heavy stress will remove half the life expectancy of a heavy smoker. While heavy stress is still not as dangerous as smoking, just the fact that it is so close to the leading cause of life expectancy reduction should give us all pause. 

 

Tips for Managing Stress

The American Heart Association notes some helpful strategies

  • Positive self-talk; 
  • Developing stress-stopping strategies; 
  • Engaging in healthy habits. 

These tips are designed to reinforce yourself against anxiety, help you avoid down spiraling into stress behavior and build healthy habits to strengthen your body and mind. 

 

A Parting Reminder

Stress may be a mind game, but the best ways to combat it are not necessarily mental. By developing more than just mental strategies, exercising physically or simply closing down your laptop for a day, you can gain a valuable advantage in your mental war. 

Stress is not something that we should normalize. It is just as dangerous as any other habit which can threaten our health, and we must treat it accordingly.

Luke Argue
Luke Argue