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How Stress Impacts Your Health

Dr. Mark Jansen

From daily life stressor to the weight of our jobs, stress impacts each one of us differently. A certain amount of stress can be a healthy and normal part of everyday life. Small doses of stress can aid people in meeting deadlines, being prepared for meetings, or in being productive and arriving on time for important events. However, long-term stress can have impacts on our whole person health and wellness. When stress becomes too overwhelming and prolonged, the risks for mental and physical health problems increase.

Everyday Effects of Stress

Routine stressors like getting children to school on time and keeping up with errands, or even recovering from a cold, can all add stress to your day. However, long-term stress like a change in a relationship, struggling to afford bills, or battling a long illness can send your body into “fight or flight” mode. When exposed to repeated episodes of acute stress, we can trigger inflammation in the circulatory system, specifically in the coronary arteries. This is believed to establish a connection between stress and the occurrence of a heart attack. Our body responds to stress by secreting more of a chemical called cortisol.  Increased cortisol can raise blood pressure and cause other physical stress responses than can be harmful.  High cortisol can disrupt nearly all body processes. In addition to raising blood pressure, elevated cortisol puts you at greater risk of physical and mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle pain, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, sleep disorders, weight gain, and impaired memory and concentration.

The Long-Term Impact of Stress

When stress begins to interfere with your daily life for a prolonged period, it becomes even more hazardous. The duration of stress negatively affects both your mind and body. You may experience fatigue, lack of concentration, or irritability for no apparent reason due to chronic stress.

Chronic stress may also lead to unhealthy habits to cope with the stress, such as overeating or smoking. While these coping mechanisms may seem comforting at the time, they can lead to additional health problems. For instance, job strain, characterized by high demands and low decision-making power, can increase the risk of coronary disease. Other forms of chronic stress like depression and inadequate social support are also associated with elevated cardiovascular risk.

Additionally, chronic stress weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to recover from illnesses.

How To Live With Stress 

With the right coping skills, you can learn to take stress and turn it into success. Try out these tips to help manage your stress:

  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, sport stretching, or massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Spending time with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

Arkansas Blue Cross Can Help You Manage Stress

We’ve been taking good care of Arkansans for over 70 years, providing affordable, reliable health insurance to keep you and your family healthy. Our whole-person approach to healthcare recognizes that many factors impact you and your family’s physical and mental health, especially stress. When we understand how physical and mental health are interconnected, we can do more to Normalize the Conversation around stress and its effects. We’re working to better address the root causes of health issues and develop programs that can make a difference. In addition to investing in programs that support all Arkansans, we’re also here to support your family’s health needs so that you can Take Good Care of yourself, your family, and your community.

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