We all know that stress equals bad news when it comes to our health. For most of us, it messes with our mood, maybe throws off our digestion, or is the culprit of a breakout. But for so many, chronic stress can be a much more serious sentence, and even lead to toxic stress.
Chronic stress is ultimately toxic. The havoc it wreaks on our bodies is vast, complex, and far-reaching. Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Center, experiences heavy stress levels both personally and in her clients.
Our wellness in every aspect hinges on our sleep. When sleep is consistently compromised, the results manifest themselves in the way we look, how we feel, our ability to adapt and function, and even our susceptibility to chronic or fatal diseases.
Dr. Haythe shares, “As a doctor, I see the effects of stress all the time, not only in my patients but in myself. During the COVID-19 wave that hit New York City, I found myself (like many people around the world) suddenly struggling with insomnia. Stress creates a surge of your body’s catecholamines, which raises blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. This can lead to depression, panic attacks, stroke, arrhythmia, and heart attacks.”
Catecholamines are hormones created by our adrenal glands. Whenever any of our hormones surge as a response to stress or stimuli, it sends the entire delicate hormonal system through a loop. We have to work extra hard to mitigate this stress, which we realize sounds oxymoronic. Work hard on relaxing? But it’s the truth.
The moment chronic stress becomes toxic stress is when hard-hitting ailments find a window for entry. In one medical study, toxic stress responses are noted to include “a prolonged or permanent abnormal physiologic response to a stressor with risk of end organ dysfunction.”
It’s the “prolonged cortisol activation and a persistent inflammatory state, with failure of the body to normalize these changes after the stressor is removed” that defines the level of stress as no longer chronic, but toxic. The goal is to prevent ourselves from achieving these levels.
Dr. Haythe shares that there are many great ways to fight stress, and she practices them often. “Try to engage in cardiovascular exercise for 45 minutes, four to five times a week. Meditation for 20 minutes a day is easy, cheap, and only requires that you can find a quiet place to sit and clear your mind. Yoga is also a great stress release and helps lower blood pressure and heart rate.”
If you feel you are unable to manage your stress, talk to your doctor about medication options and therapy. It’s crucial to be consistently aware of our stress levels in order to keep them at a healthy place. After all, stress is a natural human response, but not a livable constant state of being.
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