Guess How Much Stress Tests Men’s Health?
Are you feeling stressed? It is easy to tell when your brain is under duress, or you feel pressured or overwhelmed. Sometimes. Because there are symptoms of stress that are more familiar than your favorite game-day t-shirt.
But sometimes, we may need to recognize the symptoms of stress. They are there, but when you have chronic stress, over time, those symptoms become normal. Something you no longer notice, and you may think that stress isn’t a problem for you.
That is why they call cortisol a “silent killer”. Because whether you are experiencing extreme stress on a regular (or sometimes daily basis) or not, it could be there. Wreaking havoc on your immune system and your mental health.
Imagine running an engine at full throttle for an extended period of time. Yep, we’re back to the mechanic’s analogies for men’s health month. But you are probably visualizing the result. No engine can sustain itself at maximum RPMs indefinitely. Eventually, something is going to give. And your body is like that too.
Understanding the health impact of chronic stress is the first step to doing something about it. And finding ways to modify your daily habits and self-care. Because while you can’t stop stressful things from happening in life, how you manage your stress makes all the difference to protect your health.
The Link Between Stress and Obesity
Most people know that being overweight increases your risk factors. Cardiovascular health is impacted by stress and obesity, and so are many other types of chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer.
But can stress contribute to problems with healthy weight management? Yes. And that is something only some are aware of. The correlation between obesity and stress is a “chicken and the egg” scenario. Did the stress cause obesity? Or did obesity exacerbate stress levels?
The answer is ‘yes’ on both counts. One clinical study found that increased long-term or cortisol levels (chronic stress) could increase abdominal obesity. And it may be linked to cell receptors called glucocorticoids and may be linked to obesity and hereditary factors.
When the glucocorticoid receptor is impaired or damaged by high and sustained levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), it can increase inflammation in the body. And also impact autoimmunity (immune system functioning) and weight gain.
Can Obesity Also Cause Chronic Stress?
If stress can cause obesity, is the reverse also true? Many people may not realize that being over a healthy weight can also increase your risk of chronic stress. And it can be a vicious cycle for some patients. That is because symptoms of obesity can include physiological changes, such as hypertension, joint pain, and edema (swelling and fluid retention).
Obesity can also contribute to developing mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. And some psychotropic medications for mood disorders may contribute to weight gain. Even if patients do not change their dietary or lifestyle habits.
Prescription drugs that can contribute to problems with healthy weight management include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and include:
- Lexapro / Cipralex
One way to reduce your risk of developing chronic stress, or reduce the impact it has on your health, is to stay fit and maintain healthy body weight. It is one of the best ways to reduce cortisol levels and strengthen your immune system.
Taking Stress to Heart? Cardiovascular Risks and Hypertension
One of the best analogies regarding stress and heart health is running your RPMs at the red line. Not for a short period of time when you need a boost of energy or endurance. But constantly living each day at the maximum level of stress.
It is no surprise that chronic stress impacts heart health. It may be one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke because stress can elevate your blood pressure (hypertension). And when that happens, it damages your arteries, which can harden and reduce blood and oxygen flow to your heart.
Chronic stress can also cause unhealthy lifestyle choices. That includes overeating, smoking, consuming alcohol or other drugs, and reduced physical activity. Our methods of adapting to a stressful lifestyle are not always healthy and can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
No Surprise it is a Leading Cause of Chronic Insomnia
When you are stressed, do you get a good night of sleep? Or do you find yourself tossing and turning or lying awake thinking about the things that are stressing you out? The impact it has on our moods can cause anxiety. And significantly reduce your quality of sleep.
Does it really matter if you aren’t sleeping at least seven (7) hours per night? Sure, you are going to feel a little tired and possibly cranky, but they make coffee for that. Or carbohydrate-rich foods to give you that sugar rush to power through the day.
Stimulants are a dangerous solution to feeling tired. Over time, the extra insulin and cortisol released to process carbohydrates can reduce neurotransmitters. And that can cause a condition called adrenal fatigue.
Sleep deprivation also does a number on your immune system. Many studies show that people who have chronic insomnia are more susceptible to bacterial or viral affections. And it takes longer to get better after you have been sick if you suffer from chronic stress.
Can High Cortisol Mess With Your Love Life?
You’ve probably heard of cortisol or the stress hormone relative to the term “fight or flight”. And that explains how the human body uses stress to its advantage. If you need a surge of energy and strength, the brain triggers the release of additional cortisol to fuel your short-term emergency need. Then when the threat is gone, cortisol levels should return to normal.
But what happens when your brain keeps detecting ongoing threats? Emotional stress and physical stress are registered in the same way in the body. So, if your brain never gets the feeling that the stress is over, it won’t shut off the production of extra cortisol.
What is interesting about the “fight or flight” response is what functions get shut down during the distress of an emergency. Hunger as a sensation can be turned off because eating and getting a full stomach isn’t conducive to defending yourself. You want to stay alert, not carb-crash! But one of the messages that the brain also shuts down has to do with sexual arousal.
When you are stressed, you aren’t going to feel attractive or interested in engaging a partner with the same intensity. You may still experience desire, but it might be less intense because you are stressed. And because the brain is not down with “getting down” when stressed, you may feel a drop in sexual drive. Or experience symptoms of sexual dysfunction.
After all, snuggling up isn’t the objective when your body is in maximum cortisol overdrive. Running away and protecting yourself is. So stress can mess with your love life and sexual performance—particularly long-term or chronic stress.
Tips for Men to Reduce Stress Levels (And Live Healthier)
There are natural ways that the body can discharge or get rid of stress. And since you can’t always eliminate stress from your life, there are many healthy ways to reduce it. You can start to be aware of the health risks of chronic stress. And work to try to reduce them.
Daily physical activity is one healthy way to burn off feelings of stress and anxiety that you may be feeling. Anywhere from thirty minutes to one hour of cardiovascular activity can help you increase your circulation, then relax. Exercise can help you discharge stress-related hormones and may help you sleep better at night.
Reduce stimulants like tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol. Whenever you consume a push, it creates a rush of dopamine through your body. That dopamine can also trigger the body to release more cortisol. Stimulants may feel like they are helping with your stress, but they are not; they do more damage to your body.
Stay hydrated! Did some studies suggest that as many as 28% of Americans have chronic dehydration? Not “topping up your fluids” can cause additional harm to your body. And high cortisol levels can also contribute to dehydration.
Here are some other great stress-busting ideas:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Try to maintain a work/life balance
- Reduce your screen time, including television and social media
- Listen to relaxing music
- Get tested for nutrient deficiencies and address them using quality supplements.
- Stay social! Gather with family and friends regularly for fun.
Reducing cortisol levels can significantly reduce your risks of developing severe and sometimes life-threatening health conditions. But managing stress is like building muscle; you have to work at it. Sure, it will take some work, and these changes can take time to happen. But every step you make toward reducing stress is a step toward better health.
Would you like to talk to a mental health professional regarding stress management? Or symptoms of anxiety or depression you may be experiencing? Contact DocMJ Cares, and schedule an appointment with one of our mental health specialists.