What’s STRESS got to do with it?!?!
Stress is being blamed for a lot of things now a day. Heck, even my vet told us that the cause of our cat’s bladder infection was probably due to stress. How can that be? My cat is the most layback part of our family. His biggest stress is deciding when to attack our dog. If anything it is our dog that should be the one who is stressed. So why are his illness and so many other illnesses being blamed on stress?
What is stress?
The best medically related definition of stress that I found is from Medicinenet which states stress is: “a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure)”.
I suspect most people when they think of stress think of the emotional symptoms of having stress. This includes; feeling overwhelmed, worried, frustrated, easily agitated, or depressed. Stress can indeed cause these symptoms, but more concerning is that stress can actually cause problems to your physical health.
What happens to the body under times of stress?
When the body senses a harmful situation it will release some chemicals that cause a chain of events that trigger the “fight or flight” response. The “fight or flight” response was an evolutional development to keep the body safe from harm. When experiencing this response to a stress, your body has a physical response, which includes; increasing your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. This stress response is designed to be a protective measure, which results in your body to either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ from the harmful situation. This is an appropriate response when the harmful situation is life threating such as a bear chasing after you.
The problem lies in the fact that our bodies are unable to tell the difference between a life threating situations versus one that is just perceived as harmful. Our bodies produce the same physiological response to a life-threating event such as seeing a bear as it does to the stress that can occur from day to day hassles such as stress from work or from the drive during rush hour traffic.
When the body experiences this level of stress regularly it results in the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This causes a chain of events including the release of chemicals that result in increased inflammation. This inflammation then is believed to be one of the primary causes of disease and physical dysfunction.
What are some of the physical symptoms of stress?
The physical symptoms of stress can be difficulty sleeping, fatigue, brain fog, upset stomach, diarrhea, insomnia, increase pain and headaches. Stress is the most common reason I hear as to why people’s migraines have worsened.
Not only can stress cause physical symptoms but it can also cause medical diseases. Inflammation that associated with this chronic levels of stress is believed to be the cause of many of the chronic diseases. These diseases include high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, asthma, arthritis, some types of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
So when you doctor tells you that your symptoms or disease is due to stress, believe it. The majority of the time I feel like the patient and their family thinks that I am just calling them crazy. But this is not the case. I am not saying that they are not having symptoms, nor am I saying that they are making up or causing their symptoms because they are depressed. I am actually saying that the ‘Stress’ may actually be the cause of their symptoms.