Is stress shortening your life?

Do you ever find yourself unable to manage stress? Do you have feelings of being under siege in more than one are of your life?

If the answer is yes, you are not alone.

While stress can reduce your effectiveness and zap your energy, if the underlying cause of your stress is not alleviated, and the stress continues for too long of a period, it can, potentially, shorten your life. Research has found a definite link between mental well-being and the incidence of coronary heart disease.

Constant stress packs a double whammy in that it leads to habits that further undermine your health. People sometimes respond to daily tension by using substances that seem to relieve the pressure: tobacco, alcohol, drugs, etc. All of these substances affect the body as well as the mind, and long-term dependencies can cause severe damage. As it applies to dealing with stress, substance abuse reduces the ability to strategically avoid problems, and it diminishes your coping skills when unexpected events occur.

Chronic stress affects the body in more ways than one, including increased blood pressure and muscles tension that results in persistent pain. Stress can also impair healthy heart function and oxygen and blood circulation.

When we are stressed out, our brain and nervous system react as if we are facing danger. Thanks to evolution, our body’s internal circuity prepares us to either take on an adversary or to tun away–the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Your body releases hormones into the bloodstream that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. You become more alert and ready to call on energy supplies for your muscles. When facing a physical confrontation, this natural response improves your ability to either escape or to win a battle–to that end, the body’s fight-or-flight response has been critical to survival through the centuries.

However, there are instances when the fight-or-flight response mechanism does more harm than good. Damage can occur when this automatic response occurs repeatedly without a satisfactory resolution, or when it morphs into extended anxiety. The body’s response leads to permanent stress of our mental capacities and of our physical selves. Persistent stress has been linked to heart attacks and strokes. Although evidence that stress may cause cancer is not conclusive, there is evidence that, once cancer is present, stress can increase the rate at which it spreads through the body.

Severe stress also can signal part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) to temporarily shut down, handing over control to other parts more concentrated with emotion than reason. While this is a protective mechanism inherited from our distant ancestors, and sometimes does serve to protect, it also can lead to regrettable actions. If prolonged or repeated, brain functioning can be affected. In particular, it can impair concentration and control of impulses.

As most of us realize from personal experience, stress also increases our susceptibility to everyday ailments, such as colds, coughs and stomach disorders. We live in an environment rich in pathogens. Some of us sail through, seldom falling ill. Others catch every new bug. There is evidence that psychological stress can affect your skin’s protective barrier, thus reducing your resistance to illness.

Troublesome skin conditions also are linked to mental strain. Most cases of hives are linked to stress, which can cause quiescent conditions such as ezcema and psoriasis to flare up. When your skin’s barrier function is affected, your skin’s integrity is compromised at all levels.

And on top of all that, stressed skin just looks older.