Is Chronic Stress Causing Your Body Inflammation?
Stress. Just reading the word can bring a small amount of it up, feeling it in our mind or a slight tension in our bodies. While stress is a shared experience, the variety of ways it can affect us is often unknown. Trying to balance the pressure at work, being present for those we care about, taking care of the chores around the house, and trying to carve out time for ourselves, it's no surprise that stress has become a prevailing experience. But did you know that stress can trigger inflammation in the body that negatively impacts our physical and mental health?
Inflammation, typically associated with physical injuries or infections, is the body's natural response to protect and heal itself. However, chronic stress can result in persistent inflammation, which can wreak havoc on the body and mind.
When we experience stress, our body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, preparing us for a fight-or-flight response. While this response is helpful in acute situations, such as escaping from danger, prolonged release of stress hormones can lead to inflammation. This is because these hormones can stimulate the production of pro-inflammatory substances, such as cytokines, which contribute to inflammation.
The effects of stress-induced inflammation can manifest in various ways, including physical symptoms including:
- agitation, and
- digestive issues.
Impacts of Inflammation
However, the impact on mental health is equally profound. The presence of chronic inflammation can disrupt the balance of chemicals in the brain, including the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are crucial for maintaining emotional well-being.
As inflammation increases, so does the risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Additionally, inflammation can impair neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to adapt and form new connections, potentially affecting cognitive functions such as memory and learning.
While it is commonly known and agreed that prolonged stress is unhealthy for anyone, understanding the connection between stress, inflammation, and mental health is essential for developing strategies to better manage our stress and create more balance. Engaging in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, meditation, and time in nature can help regulate stress hormones and reduce inflammation. Additionally, a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can be beneficial. While changing our relationship with food can support our body's inflammation, this can become a distraction from doing the emotional work to keep the impacts of stress at bay. The balance of making choices with our food and day-to-day actions is the key to reducing the adverse effects of stress.
Make Self Care A Priority
In conclusion, stress is more than just a mental and emotional burden. Its impact on the body goes far beyond what meets the eye. Prioritizing stress management techniques, self-care, and a healthy lifestyle can help us minimize the harmful effects of chronic stress and inflammation, paving the way for better mental and physical health.
I specialize in treating disorders that affect the mind and body, including anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and addictive behaviors, as well as adolescent, family, and couples’ issues. Learn more about my group’s creative, collaborative practice at Lifeologie Counseling Austin or request an appointment with me to begin your journey of becoming a healthier version of you.
About Calvin Burns
Calvin Burns, MA, LPC, LCDC-I, earned his BA in Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies from Texas Tech University and earned his Master's in Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary. He specializes in disordered eating, addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, parenting support, adolescents/emerging adults, and couples counseling. He brings unwavering hope to his clients, and firmly believes that people can change and their stories can be rewritten. He sees adolescents, young adults, adults, couples and families at Lifeologie Counseling Austin.Meet Me