When stress takes over, it can feel like it’s taking years off of your life. The fact is, it may well be.
Illness, job loss, single parenthood, an unhappy marriage, a job you hate, all of these things and more can contribute to chronic stress. When you’re under stress, especially over the long-term, your cortisol levels rise, causing inflammation, which can affect you all the way down to the cellular level and influence all of your major physiological systems.
In the nucleus of each of your cells is a set of chromosomes and at the end of each chromosome is a bit of genetic material known as a telomere. Each time the cell divides, the telomeres grow shorter, until they are gone, at which point the cell dies. Chronic or intense stress can shorten the telomeres prematurely, increasing the risk of age-related ailments. Research conducted in 2014 on a group of nine year old boys discovered that the telomeres of those boys from disadvantaged families were nearly 20% shorter than those in better environments.
The first place we see changes is in the nervous system. The brain is made to adapt to new experiences, particularly in childhood when the brain is developing, particularly the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the fight, flee, or freeze reactions. It is estimated that a third of all anxiety disorders develop in response to early trauma. Children who grow up in orphanages have been shown to have amygdalae that are larger than normal, even after adoption.
People who are under chronic stress or suffer from depression or anxiety disorders are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Scientists aren’t certain why, but it’s believed that stress increases blood pressure and triggers unhealthy behaviors. In some cases, sudden stress can significantly weaken the heart in a condition known as broken heart syndrome.
Chronic stress and gastrointestinal distress seem to go hand in hand. Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome tend to have abnormally high levels of cortisol.
- See more at: drlam.com/blog/the-unexpect...