95% of all illnesses – ALL illnesses – are linked to stress. Everything from the common cold to depression to heart disease is linked to stress.
Stress causes the body to lose its ability to regulate inflammation. Cortisol, the hormone that is produced by stress, normally plays a role in regulating immune cells. However when stress is continued and becomes chronic, immune cells are no longer sensitive to cortisol and inflammation is left unhindered.
What is Stress?
Stress is your body's way of responding to any kind of need. It can be caused by both good and bad needs.
All living things require a certain amount of stress. Stress is how one responds to the challenges and uncertainties of life. For example, the awareness of danger sets off the fight-or-flight response. This is turned on through hormonal signals and prepares one to fight a threat or run from it. A stressful event can be either external (like running into a snake while hiking) or internal (like fear of losing one’s job).
Stressful events cause a cascade of hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) to surge through the body. These hormones cause your heartrate to increase, which in turn cause more blood to accumulate throughout the body, which supports quick movements, releases fat and sugar for quick energy, and prepares the muscles for movement. This stress response is meant to be short-term (life-threatening problems), not extended problems such as daily traffic jams or marital issues. It takes time for the body to calm down after a stress response has been triggered, so persistent or repeated stress has harmful physical and psychological effects including heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, depression, and poor wound healing.
Reduce Stress in Your Life
You can reduce stress by changing your attitude, through your social network or your community, via your spiritual beliefs, and by having a sense of purpose in your life. Positive self-care is linked to long-term physiological benefits including overall longevity. In addition, doing things that give us a feeling of purpose have the upside of reducing stress. It’s a win-win.
Many people think the only way to take care of our physical body is through physical means, like eating the right foods and by staying active. However, there is a dramatic and powerful connection between our mind and body. Hans Selye, MD was the first man to coin the term “stress.” He described three stages the body uses to respond to stress, called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). The first stage is the alarm stage, which provides a burst of energy. In the second stage, known as the resistance stage, the body attempts to resist or adapt to the stressor. The last stage is known as the exhaustion stage because energy is depleted. As Dr. Selye famously stated, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
We are living in an on the go society with not much time to ourselves. It’s not a surprise that we are seeing an epidemic of stress-related disorders. Even though you may be eating a nutrient-dense diet and getting plenty of exercise, concentrating on mindfulness, slowing down, and inspiring purpose into your life will ensure you feel your best and live a long and healthy life.
Low Stress = Longer Life
According to a 2014 study, individuals who live a more stressful life have a 50% higher chance of dying. The study also found that experiencing anything more than two stressful events per year is harmful.
How to Reduce Stress
There are many things we can do that will decrease stress in our lives. These include meditation, deep breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, taking a hot bath, making love, getting a massage, and even walking in the woods or on the beach. These are all pleasurable, easy ways to calm the body and mind.
I encourage my clients to form nurturing meaningful relationships by joining groups and community events; these reduce the psychological stress associated with social isolation - this is especially true for the elderly.
There are a multitude of things you can do today to reduce stress. By doing so now, you can avoid disease and boost your longevity and happiness.
“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” – Hans Selye, MD
1. Cohen S, Janicki-deverts D, Doyle WJ, et al. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2012;109(16):5995-9.
2. Aldwin CM, Jeong YJ, Igarashi H, Choun S, Spiro A. Do hassles mediate between life events and mortality in older men? Longitudinal findings from the VA Normative Aging Study. Exp Gerontol. 2014;59:74-80.