The SheBrisbane team were curious about stress and had a chat with HCF Medical Director, Dr Andrew Cottrill about how it can affect your health. This is what he had to say…
Most of us live such busy, demanding lives that thinking ‘I’m stressed’ is almost a daily mantra. Do not ignore stress. Chronic stress can do more than make you tear up or melt down—it can have a serious health impact.
When you slam on the brakes or fight with your partner, your body pumps out stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These encourage the release of fats into the bloodstream and promote internal inflammation, which leads to cholesterol build-up and narrowing of the arteries. Adrenaline can also kick-start life-threatening heart arrhythmias. The heart is more sensitive to stress than the liver, lungs, kidneys and muscles, according to research by the Baker ID Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.
Self-help: Get some vitamin D
Enjoy a daily 10-minute sunbath to increase your absorption of vitamin D, which helps reduce artery-narrowing plaque in the blood vessels. Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Centre have also found that people report lower tension levels and greater relaxation after sun exposure, most likely because those golden rays trigger the brain to release feel-good hormones such as serotonin.
High blood pressure
Stress causes blood pressure spikes. When we’re anxious, our bodies can hold on to sodium and this raises blood pressure, research from the Georgia Health Sciences University in the US shows. Heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney disease can all be triggered or made worse by high blood pressure, warns the Heart Foundation.
Are you always feeling rushed and uptight? Your lifestyle might be widening your waistline. “Stress impacts on the balance of hormones that control your appetite, so it can make you eat more and crave foods that are high in both sugar and fat,” says Susan Torres, a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Victoria.
Self-help: Look after your health
Make sure you are eating healthy food and getting regular exercise. Take time to do activities you find calming or uplifting, such as listening to music, walking or dancing. Avoid using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope.
Studies show that worry can worsen eczema and make people more prone to acne flare-ups,” says Associate Professor Dr Stephen Shumack, specialist dermatologist at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital. “Anxiety appears to increase natural steroid production in the body, lowering the skin’s ability to heal and possibly increasing the tendency to scar.”
Make time to practice relaxation. This will help your body and nervous system to settle and readjust. Consider learning a formal relaxation technique such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga; or make time to absorb yourself in a relaxing activity such as gardening or listening to music. As well as burning off stress hormones, exercise can oxygenate cells, improving the health and healing of your skin, the body’s largest organ.
“Even a small amount of ongoing stress can compromise your immunity and increase your likelihood of picking up colds and flu,” Dr Andrew Cottrill explains.
“It’s becoming clearer now that more subtle, ongoing stress over shorter periods can have an impact on immunity and health.”
When we’re stressed, sometimes we repeat things in our head that add to our stress. Unhelpful self-talk might include things like: ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘It’s not fair’. Try more helpful and positive self-talk like ‘I’m coping well given what’s on my plate’ or ‘Calm down’ or ‘Breathe easy’.
You can also make use of the many digital tools and free online resources from HCF to help reach your goals. HCF’s suite of healthy apps include a Be Happier app, which offers tools to improve mental and emotional wellbeing.