Everyone faces some sort of stress almost every day. It could be as seemingly minor as waiting in line to check out at the grocery store when you are worried about everything else you have to do that day. Or it could be a major stress factor, such as losing a job or facing financial difficulties. Can stress make you sick? Stress can have a serious impact on your mental and your physical health, including your immune system.
When you are stressed, your body’s internal chemistrychanges. You have a stress hormone known as cortisol, which, along with your adrenaline and norepinephrine, surges as a result of stress. That increases your blood sugar levels, resulting in more glucose being allocated to your brain. The chain reaction is good for when you need a “fight or flight” response to a threatening situation.
However, the same biochemical responses will now kick into gear to help you react quickly when you’re under pressure and not necessarily seriously threatened. Rather than being faced with a predator, you may be running late for work or having an argument with a loved one. Prolonged stress, such as that experienced by most people during the COVID-19 pandemic, can also cause the chemical reaction in your body that can prove more harmful than helpful.
Stress and the Immune System
When you experience stress, your body increases its productionof steroid hormones that include cortisol. These hormones normally regulate the immune system and help reduce inflammation, but chronic stress causes a miscommunication between your immune system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Essentially, this is the interaction between the pituitary glands, the adrenal glands, and the hypothalamus. Your stress hormones can depress your immune system by lowering the activity of those cells that respond to bacteria, viruses, and other inflammatory conditions.
Prolonged stress can increase your risk of getting sick. One study has found that 60% to 80% of doctor’s office visits may be related to the patient’s stress levels. You may experience physical symptoms as soon as your stress level starts to increase. The symptoms will worsen as your stress continues and, in fact, if your stress levels remain high or you experience stress frequently, your risk of getting sick will also rise.
Symptoms caused by stress can include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
Stress and Your Physical Health
From aches and pains to migraines, stress has been known to be at the root of a number of illnesses or, at the least, to make you more susceptible given that your immune system has also been affected.
Common cold: Chronic stress can prevent your body from properly regulating its inflammatory responses. You may be more susceptible to developing a cold when exposed to cold-causing germs when you have experienced stress over a long period of time.
Stomach-related illnesses: Stress can stop your gastrointestinal system from functioning as it should, and that can affect your large bowel and stomach. You can experience indigestion, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea as a result. Stress not only aggravates the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome but may be one of the main causes of the condition.
Obesity: Higher cortisol levels that are caused by chronic stress have been shown to influence weight gain. When you experience sleep issues related to stress, your cortisol levels are raised even further and that can lead to increases in your belly fat. You will probably also crave sweets and refined carbohydrates, which contribute to poor nutrition.
Heart disease: Stress, including that related to finances, work, life events, and emotional concerns, can increase your risk of heart disease. Increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels are directly linked to heart disease. Stress can also significantly increase your risk of having a fatal heart attack.
Stress and Addiction Treatment
When you need help with chronic stress and addiction, reach out to Hope by the Sea. You may be one of the 47.6 million Americans struggling with a mental health disorder, possibly from your chronic stress, as well as an alcohol or substance use disorder. We can help. Our team of highly trained professionals can help you heal and begin your journey of recovery. We offer many unique, evidence-based therapies designed to help you get on or get back on the road toward lasting recovery. Hope starts here!