You may have heard both the terms “inflammation” and “stress”, but did you know they were connected? Chronic, unmanaged stress can actually lead to chronic inflammation, which in turn can lead to various health conditions. By managing your stress, you may also be able to prevent your risk of conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.
To start, what is inflammation? Inflammation is actually a protective process that supports your body in fighting injury and infection. It’s when inflammation becomes chronic that it can have negative effects. As part of the inflammation process, your body produces additional white blood cells, immune cells, and other substances to help fight the infection.
There are two types of inflammation, acute inflammation and chronic inflammation. With acute or short-term inflammation, there is often pain, redness, heat, or swelling. For example, if you bump your knee, the surrounding area starts to swell, bruise, and can become painful. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is inflammation that is long-lasting and typically doesn’t have visual symptoms. It has been found to lead to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Now, what happens to your body when it is under stress? Signs and symptoms of stress can come in many different forms, whether it’s from losing a job, over-exercising, or being chased by a bear, the body views all of these as a stressor.
Regardless of the stressor, the body’s stress response is triggered by various hormones and nerves in the body. Cortisol is one of these important stress hormones. It is typically released in response to particular events such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute or sudden stress. Cortisol is part of the fight-or-flight response and temporarily suppresses non-essential functions such as the immune response and digestion. Additionally, it increases energy production, inhibits insulin production, and narrows blood vessels to aid the body in responding to the stressor. The resulting imbalances then resolve once the stressor is eliminated.
As you can see, this mechanism is designed to help get you through a sudden stressful situation and we all will have high cortisol from time to time. However, when cortisol levels are chronically elevated, it can have a negative impact on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk.
The Intersection of Stress and Inflammation:
While much is still unknown, current research indicates that chronic stress can over-stimulate the immune system, which can lead to an imbalance of inflammation and anti-inflammation. Again, inflammation itself is not problematic, just when it becomes chronic. Furthermore, high levels of inflammation can continue to impact stress-related diseases. Some stress related diseases that can be linked to inflammation are cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome and many other types of health problems. Stress management is often easier said than done, however reducing your stress levels can have a big impact on your health by reducing inflammatory markers in your body!
Ways to manage stress:
Since everyone will likely have different coping mechanisms that work for them, it is important to find ways to manage stress that work for you!
Coping mechanisms to try:
Yoga and meditation: Research has shown that practicing yoga or meditation can improve the inflammatory and stress response.
Walking: While intense forms of movement may add to your stress levels, forms of light movement such as walking can be beneficial to reducing stress. Keep the movement light to moderate during times of high stress to ensure you’re not further elevating stress.
Journaling: Writing down your thoughts can be a great way to unload feelings of stress rather than letting them harbor. Journaling can also help you clarify and process what you are feeling.
Talking to a loved one: Having a strong social support system has been shown to increase stress resilience. Give your friend or family member a call and see if that can help you reduce some stress.
Ask for help: When your coping mechanisms aren’t enough, remember to ask for help from a professional such as a psychologist or other mental health provider. They can address your specific needs and provide you with additional tools to manage your stress.
We will all encounter stressful situations from time to time, some situations may be avoidable, while others might not be. During those times where stress is high, it is important to do what you can to manage your stress to protect yourself from chronic stress and the risk of chronic inflammation.
Did you know that your genes can also help you get a better understanding of what stressors you are more likely to respond to, as well as how you are likely to respond? GenoPalate is excited to soon be offering genetic insights on your stress triggers and responses with even more detailed information on how these can impact your overall health and what you can do about it. By gaining a deeper understanding of how your genes impact your stress, as well as small but effective ways to optimize your foods and dietary habits, you can begin to protect your body from the negative impact of stress and even potentially improve your overall mood and stress levels.