Wellbeing / 22 Jun, 2020

Preventing stress-related health issues

Dr Goh Lit Ching

What is stress and how does it affect your body?

Stress is a heightened state of physical, mental and physiological reactions which occur in response to a potentially dangerous situation. When facing sudden stress, chemicals and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released from the brain. This causes your heart to beat faster, sending blood to your muscles and important organs to ensure your body can cope with the immediate need.

Stress is not always bad; even positive life changes such as getting married, a job promotion, buying a house or the birth of a child can produce stress. Undeniably, a healthy dose of stress keeps us motivated and able to progress further. However, a large amount of stress, if not handled correctly, can lead to the development of multiple health disorders.

8 common health disorders related to stress

  1. Headache – Research has proven that stress can be a recurring triggering factor for chronic headaches. Migraine and tension headaches are commonly associated with stress.
  2. Cardiovascular disease – Stress can directly increase your heart rate and blood flow due to the release of chemicals into your blood, putting a strain on your heart. People with a Type A personality who experience higher levels of stress are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and other heart problems.
  3. Diabetes – When your body is in a state of constant stress, it can adjust to the way glucose is stored and lead to the development of metabolic disorders. On the other hand, stress may also lead to unhealthy behaviours such as stress-eating, excessive drinking and sedentary lifestyle, consequently increasing your risk of diabetes.
  4. Obesity – Stress causes cortisol levels (also known as the stress hormone) to increase in your body, which contributes to central obesity where excess fat is deposited around your abdomen.
  5. Gastrointestinal diseases – Stress is commonly associated with many gastrointestinal conditions such as gastritis, reflux disease (GERD) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). Chronic stress can also worsen the progression of stomach ulcers in some people with existing peptic ulcer disease (PUD).
  6. Asthma – Stress can easily trigger asthma attacks in people who have been diagnosed with asthma. Some research even suggests that chronic stress in parents can be a precipitating factor for the development of asthma in their children.
  7. Mood disorders – Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are commonly associated with stress. Insomnia is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor when they are undergoing stress. Be it a sudden major life event or a constant pattern of stress in your daily life, stress can play a big role in the increase of mental health issues.
  8. Immune system disorders – Constant stress increases the demand on your body and lower its ability to cope. As a result, you may end up with a lowered immunity when dealing with other illnesses in your body.

Ways to reduce your stress and prevent these issues

  • Relaxation techniques – Learn to cope with stress by using simple activities that you can do every day, such as deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness activities.
  • Constant and regular physical exercise – Taking time off by engaging in regular physical activities that you enjoy can help you manage stress. While exercising your body will release endorphins, a natural hormone that helps you stay positive and happy.
  • Having a hobby – Setting aside some time to indulge in your hobbies can help to distract you from the stressors that you are facing. Anhedonia (lack of interest in your usual hobbies) is common in people who have depression.
  • Healthy diet – It is encouraged to avoid unhealthy food options such as junk food or foods with additives or colourings. While they may make you feel good in short term, your body will be under increased stress when digesting these foods.
  • Regular sleeping pattern – Having a regular sleep cycle helps your body to recuperate, recharge and cope with your daily tasks. This in turn helps to prevent feeling ‘stressed out’ due to an inability to meet deadlines at work.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol – Consuming excessive amounts of caffeine may cause you to feel nervous and experience heart palpitations. This can cause stress-related episodes to flare up even more. Excessive alcohol drinking can contribute to mood disorders such as depression, and other health problems related to the gastrointestinal system which increase stress on your body.
  • Talk to somebody – If you’re feeling stressed, we encourage you to contact your friends and families, stay in touch and get social support from your loved ones. Counsellors and your family doctors are also available when you feel overwhelmed. Take the first step forward and remember you are not alone during these stressful periods.

References

For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Stress management. Retrieved on 8 May 2020 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-basics/hlv-20049495
  2. WebMD. (2020). Stress management. Retrieved on 8 May 2020 from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/default.htm
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