I’m sure most of us have experienced short term or acute stress because of a situation or incident. I was driving my truck through a green light and turning onto the south bound lane a few weeks ago when a car in another turn lane started to drive right at me. I had the green light and he had the red light. Yet he kept on driving. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention and was distracted? Maybe he assumed he could go because he wasn’t thinking correctly? Or maybe he just didn’t care about the rules of the road and only cared about himself and his schedule?
Whatever the case, he stressed me out enough for me to speed up to avoid being t-boned on the side of my truck by his car coming at me. My heart rate increased, blood pressure increased, my body surged with the fight or flight and stress hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol), and my muscles became tense. Usually I enjoy these body functions because I willingly create them during planned exercise and sport activities. But not this time. It was a noticeable difference and a feeling I didn’t like.
Fortunately, this stress response saved me from having an accident and I drove on after the event instead of creating more stress by confronting the idiot driver. Let it go, right? Not worth it. I can’t imagine dealing with that kind of stress throughout the day most days of the week. A lot of people do experience this kind of chronic stress in their lives. Chronic stress can lead to poor health. Here’s a few negative health results from chronic stress, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
High stress levels and weight gain. Certain stress hormones can increase hunger. Cortisol hormone can stay elevated when the stress event is over and you’re trying to recover. This hormone increases hunger and a motivation to eat to replenish the calories used during the stress event.
High stress and digestive issues. In a stress event, energy is diverted away from the digestive functions to other parts of the body like the muscles to avoid the stress event. Staying continually stressed can weaken the digestive functions.
High stress and disease. Research has shown that stress is a common risk factor in 75-90% of diseases, such as diabetes, liver disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease (Liu, Wang and Jiang, 2017).
There’s a positive to this topic of stress. The way we perceive the stress event has a significant impact on how it affects us. Viewing the stress event as a challenge versus a threat can provide better physical and psychological results such as a boost in cognition, motivation, memory, creativity and perseverance.
We all deal with daily stress. Learn how to positively manage your stress event. Here’s to your great health.
Jonathan Souder is the Fitness Director at Manor House, an Acts Retirement-Life Community in Seaford, Delaware. This column appeared in the June 6, 2019 edition of the Seaford Star.