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The Effects of Chronic Stress

31 August 2009 One Comment
I’m going to take information from a couple of recent articles to outline the effects of chronic stress. Obviously this year has been very stressful for a lot of people, and we’ve certainly been seeing that in clinic. Everyone is feeling the pressure this year, and it’s easy for things to escalate out of control. But the good news is relaxation can reverse the negative effects stress has on your body.
Stress is bad enough in the short term, but when it is maintained for a longer period of time, it starts to affect you in some pretty serious ways. As Natalie Angier reported in the New York Times (http://bit.ly/1XKem), chronic stress has been shown to:
raise blood pressure
stiffen arteries
suppress the immune system
heighten the risk of diabetes
depression and Alzheimer’s disease
One study (http://bit.ly/IAPva) showed that “Chronic stress not only makes people more vulnerable to catching illnesses but can also impair their immune system’s ability to respond to its own anti-inflammatory signals”. That is, it not only lowers your immune system and thus makes you more susceptible to catching something, it also messes with your body’s ability to regulate its responses to illness.
So when the inflammatory response starts (which is a good thing for your body when fighting something), it doesn’t stop. This means you stay inflamed for longer. This is bad. An example of this would be when you have a minor strain, or a cold/flu that would normally go away pretty quickly, but it has stayed around a lot longer than normal. Sound familiar? I have seen more people than I could count like this lately.
Other new research is starting to show how it can even “re-wire” the brain and develop a self perpetuating cycle. A study where rats were chronically stressed (http://bit.ly/rDHLS) found that “regions of the brain associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled, while, conversely, brain sectors linked to habit formation had bloomed”. That is, they lost their rat cunning, and fell into a rut of routine, “compulsively pressing a bar for food pellets they had no intention of eating.”
There is good news though – this can all be reversed. They did an experiment where they stressed the rats for 4 weeks – giving them electric shocks, dunking their heads under water, putting them in cages with dominant rats (reminds me of high school), then gave them a 4 week “holiday” – none of these stressors. After their holiday, their ability to innovate returned, and the neural pathways in the brain related to decision making reformed!
The principle is simple, and makes sense when you think about it – if it can be changed one way (by being exposed to stress), then obviously it can be changed the other way (by removing the stress).
But a break is required in order to reverse this. A lot of you have been exposed to some pretty serious stress this year. Even though September has come up quick, there are still several months of this year to go. If you’ve been getting hammered by stress this year, now might be a good time to take a break from it, escape the rut, recharge the batteries, and re-wire your brain. I thought the author put it quite eloquently – “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”

I’m going to take information from a couple of recent articles to outline the effects of chronic stress. Obviously this year has been very stressful for a lot of people, and we’ve certainly been seeing that in clinic. Everyone is feeling the pressure this year, and it’s easy for things to escalate out of control. But the good news is relaxation can reverse the negative effects stress has on your body.

Stress is unpleasant enough in the short term, but when it is maintained for a longer period of time, it starts to affect you in some pretty serious ways. As Natalie Angier reported in the New York Times, chronic stress has been shown to:

  • raise blood pressure
  • stiffen arteries
  • suppress the immune system
  • heighten the risk of diabetes
  • depression and Alzheimer’s disease

One study (http://bit.ly/IAPva) showed that “Chronic stress not only makes people more vulnerable to catching illnesses but can also impair their immune system’s ability to respond to its own anti-inflammatory signals“. That is, it not only lowers your immune system and thus makes you more susceptible to catching something, it also messes with your body’s ability to then regulate its responses to illness.

So when the inflammatory response starts (which is a good thing for your body when fighting something), it doesn’t stop. This means you stay inflamed for longer. This is bad. An example of this would be when you have a minor strain, or a cold/flu that would normally go away pretty quickly, but it has stayed around a lot longer than normal. Sound familiar? I have seen more people than I could count like this lately.

Other new research is starting to show how it can even “re-wire” the brain and develop a self perpetuating cycle. A study where rats were chronically stressed (http://bit.ly/rDHLS) found that “regions of the brain associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled, while, conversely, brain sectors linked to habit formation had bloomed”. That is, they lost their rat cunning, and fell into a rut of routine, “compulsively pressing a bar for food pellets they had no intention of eating.”

There is good news though – this can all be reversed. They did an experiment where they stressed the rats for 4 weeks – giving them electric shocks, dunking their heads under water, putting them in cages with dominant rats (reminds me of high school), then gave them a 4 week “holiday” – none of these stressors. After their holiday, their ability to innovate returned, and the neural pathways in the brain related to decision making reformed!

The principle is simple, and makes sense when you think about it – if it can be changed one way (by being exposed to stress), then obviously it can be changed the other way (by removing the stress).

But a break is required in order to reverse this. A lot of you have been exposed to some pretty serious stress this year. Even though September has come up quick, there are still several months of this year to go. If you’ve been getting hammered by stress this year, now might be a good time to take a break from it, escape the rut, recharge the batteries, and re-wire your brain. I thought the author put it quite eloquently – “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”

One Comment »

  • Christopher Jones, Osteo » Blog Archive » Guide To Summer said:

    […] Hope you all get some time off with loved ones to catch up and de-stress (studies have shown that time off is needed to reverse the effects of long term stress). If you need to see me about anything I will be working right up until Christmas but then taking […]