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Show of hands, please. How many of you have friends who complain there just is not enough stress in their life? Probably not many.

Stress is a very personalized phenomenon. Some individuals thrive under pressure in the while others wither. Take law enforcement as an example. The American Institute of Stress reports a survey among law enforcement personnel revealed many officers experience more stress associated with documentation duties than actual policing activities. On-the-job stress is so prevalent among law enforcement personnel that if an officer has a heart attack, it is automatically classified as a work-related medical event.

Stress is everywhere and will affect almost everyone at some point in his or her lives, not just something people with high-risk and labor-intensive jobs face. So, let us talk about how stress affects your health, at work and off the clock.

What Happens to the Body During a Stressful Event?

It is common knowledge too much stress and worry disrupts sleep patterns, causes headaches and often makes people feel like their world is spinning out of control.

There is a direct correlation between heightened stress and chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. Whether stress is caused by a sudden event, such as someone cutting you off in traffic, or a long-term problem, such as worrying about bills, your body goes through a series of changes.

First, your body releases a surge of adrenaline and other hormones, which increases both breathing and heart rates. Blood pressure goes up. The body stops producing insulin and the liver breaks down glycogen so you have access to more sugar to fuel muscles should you need to run from the danger. Skin cells contract, triggering perspiration.

In a temporary situation, once the danger has passed your body returns to normal. In prolonged situations, your body has to deal with this “flight or fight” for days, months or years which contributes artery wall damage, and heart disease.

How Does Chronic Stress Affect Your Health?

Chronic stress not only affects organs and systems in the body, it may cause behavioral changes. People who feel they have lost control of their life may misuse drugs and/or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Many people report problems with memory and concentration, which lowers job performance and makes managing daily life challenging. Reduced performance can trigger periods of low self-esteem and depression, which may contribute to even riskier behavior patterns.

Loss of self-confidence is also associated with eating disorders. Even though cortisol, one of the stress hormones released during the “flight-or-fight” surge, does not go down after eating, many people find themselves binging on unhealthy sugary and salty foods when tensions are high. This behavior contributes to obesity, which in turn, complicates management for other chronic conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease.

Cortisol disrupts the body’s metabolism, so weight gain is possible, even if you are not binge eating for hours in front of the television. In addition, this hormone is known to negatively affect the sex drive and throw a woman’s menstrual cycle out of rhythm. It is common for people experiencing prolonged stress to simply fall out of the mood for sex.

It would be nice if you could just crawl under the covers and sleep it off, but unfortunately, stress also disrupts your sleep patterns. Both too little sleep and too much sleep are bad for your body. Our bodies need a balance between sleep and wakefulness. Stress-induced insomnia, which is characterized by an ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, generally means you will get less restorative sleep. Our body uses sleep periods to maintain good health. Doctors still don’t know everything the body does when we sleep, but a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience confirms that sleep deprivation induces psychosis-like symptoms and hallucinations in as little as 24 hours.

Preventing stress-related heart disease, chronic high blood pressure and diabetes often demand a team of medical providers working together to reduce stressors and increase positive, healthy behaviors. Our Brevard Health Alliance doctors can help you regain control of your life. Call to schedule an appointment today, and start living life on the stress-free side.

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