Stress is a broad term used to describe the interplay of the number of factors. Everyone has to go through stressful conditions daily. However, response to stress depends on the personal approach, genetics, social upbringing, and much more.
Stress is bad for health, as it rarely exists alone. Those facing regular stressful conditions are prone to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, lower immunity, and, thus, vulnerable to diseases. It’s a vicious circle; stress increases the risk of physical and mental disorders, which, in return, lower the capability to tackle stress. For a healthy life, it is necessary to break this vicious circle.
The most effective way to break this vicious circle is through lifestyle changes, altering responses. The best way to do this is through dietary measures, exercise, and good sleep. Sleep helps reset mood, refresh the brain, and for proper rest and sleep, changes in the environment may help. It is essential to invest in stress-fighting capabilities by sometimes taking a break, giving oneself a massage, investing in other necessary things, and HL mat could be one such thing.
Stress is difficult to understand, as people describe it in different ways. Some would say that they are feeling burnout, tired all the time. Others may say that they feel depressed, do not find interest in anything. In many cases, they may get treated for conditions like depression. However, treatment won’t help until or unless the root cause of stress is rectified, and response to it is modified.
Humans or any living being can handle lots of stress. But sometimes it becomes overwhelming. There are two sources of stress; internal and external. The external problems like the loss of a job, or other reasons are an example of external factors. However, one should pay more attention to the internal factor, as one has more control over them.
Some people are better than others at handling stress. This difference is due to internal ways of handling things, because of mental and behavioral differences. People with an excellent ability to handle stress have specific habits, practice rituals, like going for a walk, engaging in hobbies—those prone to stress lack an action plan.
Additionally, it is essential to understand that acute stress is not harmful in most situations. Researchers call it a “fight or flight” reaction. Critical stress response helps fight infection, injury, physical attack. Acute stress causes a range of changes in the body, helping to either fight or escapes the situation. Thus, it is not very bad for health.
Chronic stress is altogether a different thing. It is damaging to health. Researchers say that chronic unhandled stress is like keeping the alarm button pressed all the time. Chronic stress causes widespread changes in the body, and if unhandled, they may become irreversible, giving rise to diseases. Thus, chronic stress may finally cause hypertension, diabetes, low immunity, sleep disorders, depression, neurodegenerative diseases.
Researchers think that not only does it lower resistance to infections, but many of the known and lesser-understood health conditions are due to stress. Thus, stress is a significant contributing factor to conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic stress and cortisol (stress hormone) dysfunction
Those living with stress often complain about emotional exhaustion, fatigue, unexplained body pains, disinterest in events. Drug therapy may provide temporary relief with these symptoms, but it fails to help in many cases, as the root cause remains untreated.
One of the essential stress hormone cortisol plays a vital role in various stress-related dysfunctions. Cortisol is a crucial hormone for human existence. However, its continuous increased levels may cause damage to health.
Cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory hormone. The body secretes it during periods of stress to reduce inflammation, and fasten recovery. Yet, chronic elevation of cortisol suppresses immunity and may have opposing action. A prolonged increase in cortisol may instead increase the prevalence of low-level inflammation in the body.
Cortisol elevates levels of glucose, as higher energy is needed to fight stress. It helps mobilize energy reserves from the liver, skeletal muscles, and so on. When cortisol is elevated most of the time due to poorly regulated stress, it gives rise to insulin resistance. That is why chronic stress and ensuing higher levels of cortisol are one of the chief reasons for the higher prevalence of diabetes and related conditions in modern days.
Cortisol also affects the brain function, plays a role in the consolidation of memories. This helps humans tackle future threats better by either avoiding them or using the right methods to fight them. However, frequent exposure to stress and cortisol results in over-amplification of memories, and body response to smaller threats may be disproportional.
The final result of this exaggerated cortisol response is widespread pain, inflammation, and reduced immunity.
Adrenal glands located at the upper tip of kidneys produce cortisol. The hypothalamic-pituitary-axis (a control center in the brain) and sympathetic nervous system primarily control the activity of the adrenal gland.
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone; it means that its prolonged increase not only negatively impacts immunity but is terrible for many other tissues. It will weaken skeletal muscles, may harm various internal organs. It causes water retention and increases blood pressure, too.
Another essential thing to understand is something called negative feedback. When cortisol is elevated due to continuous stress, the body stops reacting to various stress handling mechanisms. It also loses its ability to adequately handle stress due to negative feedback and resultant widespread dysfunction.
The rise in chronic inflammation is due to cortisol dysfunction, its impact on other hormones like mineralocorticoids, that are known to promote inflammation.
Inflammation is a defensive reaction of the body, but continuous low-level inflammation may eventually do more damage than good. Science has just started to understand its role in immune defects in diseases like heart disease, brain disorders.
So, if a person feels down, disheartened, fatigued, in pain, and have sleep issues, for a prolonged interval, one should take it seriously. It is better to handle these issues early.
Inflammation as the final cause of stress-related diseases
Inflammation requires a separate discussion since it is a common pathway for many disease conditions, including stress-related disorders.
Stress derails the internal balance of the human body. Researchers think that stress plays a role in the development of 75%-90% of disease conditions.
Science has focused a lot on stress-related changes in the brain and hormone, but it seems that the final increase in the risk is due to inflammation. Inflammation is a kind of immune response, which is useful to a degree, but becomes an issue when prolonged and uncontrolled.
Newer studies show that those living with stress have elevated inflammation markers, a higher level of cytokines, tumor necrosis factor, interleukin, and much more.
Despite a century of intensive research, inflammation is not yet fully understood. However, the latest evidence suggests that stress-related inflammation is involved in the development of more diseases than though earlier, like hypertension, atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, Parkinson’s, depression, cancers.
Stress, immunity, and diseases
Stress can affect just at any stage of life, and it would be wrong to view it as something only limited to adults. This also means that one should learn to cope with stress from a young age. Studies show that events like bullying at school may have long term consequences, and bullied children are more likely to catch seasonal infections.
Young adults are nonetheless good at coping with stress, as their immune system can still respond appropriately. However, with the aging of the immune system, things start changing. Studies suggest that older adults are both slow at initiating a response to stress and terminating it. Thus, older adults take a longer time to control levels of cortisol after stress and therefore are more prone to inflammatory conditions.
Though stress hormones have anti-inflammatory properties, their prolonged elevation leads to the development of resistance and worsening of chronic inflammation.
Older adults are more involved in caregiving. Regretfully, caregiving itself can cause lots of distress, causing worsening of immunity and healing powers of the body. The latest recommendations say that caretakers should pay particular attention to self-care.
Chronic stress may also fasten the aging processes. This could be another way that it may weaken immunity.
It is also essential to understand that stress has a high metabolic cost. It is a complex reaction. Unmanaged stress results in irreversible changes in the body. During most of human history, stress responses were beneficial, as it was challenging to survive, there was a continuous risk of predators, attacks, and so on. That is why stress reaction is not energy efficient, and it does not consider long term health issues. However, in the last century or so, things have changed fast. Instead of severe stressful conditions, life is full of small stressors, causing continuous low-grade stress reactions.
Changes in immune responses and exacerbation of some diseases are now well documented, as an increase in gastrointestinal symptoms in IBS. Worsening of autoimmune diseases, depression, and so on.
Coping with stress and HL mat
Non-pharmacological treatment is undoubtedly better for managing chronic stress. It is notably better to start using these methods early enough to avoid the development of more severe disease conditions.
Moreover, studies show that perhaps the best way to tackle stress is by changing the thinking pattern, altering the behavior. Medical specialists would call it a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Almost every medical literature would say that stress management should begin with CBT.
CBT may or may not require a consultation from a specialist. It is just an umbrella term used to describe all the changes that one makes in his or her thinking pattern and behavior to tackle stress. Thus, starting to practice yoga, or starting a new hobby to combat stress are all part of CBT. What research shows that psychological stress management is highly beneficial.
People tend to overlook the benefits of adequate rest. One can merely reduce stress by focusing on things that increase comfort in life, help sleep better.
Studies show that even a day of sleep deprivation may cause a reduction in immune responses. This also means that focusing on rest quality may provide early results, though such outcomes may not be visible instantly – nonetheless, lab tests confirm such benefits.
Here is what specialists say about the relationship between good rest and immunity:
- It is biologically essential for maintaining a healthy immune system
- People should be educated regarding the importance of healthy sleep, achieved through various means, like by changing the environment, using a tool like HL mat, and much more
- Chronic sleep deprivation may cause widespread havoc, weakening the immunity, and thus increasing the risk of seasonal infections, worsening non-infectious diseases like autoimmune conditions, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders
- Individuals should understand the importance of sleep hygiene which includes good sleeping habits, use of comfortable mattress (HL mat could be a sleep-promoting and stress overcoming tool)
- Medications are not an excellent way to treat sleep and stress, as they alter the working of the brain causing many unwanted changes, though they may seem reasonable as a short-term remedy
One of the reasons why people fail miserably in managing stress and related disorders is an untimely response, and failure to start lifestyle changes. People find it easier to take pills than make changes in the way they live.
In managing stress, low-tech solutions may work better. Therefore, the best way to handle it is by changing the way one lives, modify the environment. Invest in simpler things. Using an HL mat may help improve the quality of sleep, reduce stress, counter inflammation, strengthen immunity. Such benefits would occur gradually on prolonged use. HL mat is not a quick-fix, but yes, it helps in most cases.