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7 Health Conditions Caused By Stress

7 Health Conditions Caused By Stress

Stress is a natural part of life. Everyone experiences it at one time or another. In fact, a recent poll conducted by Harvard University-Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-NPR found that 49% of adults reported having a major stressful event or experience in the past year. In addition, more than 4 in 10 (43%) adults report stressful events and negative experiences related to health.

Many people who experience stress try to cope with it through eating, drinking, smoking, and even taking drugs. People who are stressed typically get less sleep and exercise less. These are all activities that can negatively impact health. However, recent studies have been discovering that there is a lot more to the way that stress impacts our health.

Our bodies react to stress by pumping adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream. This focuses the mind and body creating an immediate reaction. This response has helped humans survive throughout generations. Unfortunately, this rush of adrenaline due to stress can also create health risks. In addition, the more significant risk is because of the cortisol increase.

Cortisol has many good functions, like reducing inflammation, but is not meant to be constantly released. The constant release of cortisone causes cells to be desensitized to the hormone. This can allow inflammation to go crazy. Chronic inflammation over the long-term can damage blood vessels and brain cells. It can also lead to insulin resistance (a precursor of diabetes) and promote extremely painful joint diseases.

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Here are 7 health conditions caused by stress:

1. The Common Cold

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    In a shocking 2012 study 276 healthy adults were interviewed about stressful events in their lives and then exposed to the cold virus. The people who were experiencing chronic stress were cortisol resistant and more likely to get sick. The study showed that when under continuous stress, cells in the immune system are unable to respond properly to the cold virus. They produce levels of inflammation that lead to disease.

    2. Increased Weight Gain

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    Overweight

      The stress hormones stimulate a craving for foods full of sugar, starch, and fat. This is the reason you are more likely to want a candy bar after a stressful day. However, new research shows the link between stress and weight gain is a lot more complex than just bad food choices. For example, in one study women who had one or more stressful events during the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories in the seven hours following a fast-food meal than women who ate a similar meal but were stress-free. 104 calories may not seem like a lot, but it can actually add up to 11 extra pounds per year.

      In addition to creating changes in metabolism, stress also produces a rise in insulin levels and a decrease in fat oxidation. This process promotes fat storage. Other studies have shown a correlation between excess cortisol and increased abdominal fat.

      3. Sleep Issues

      Sleeping Issues

        As we get older we experience natural decreases in the amount of deep sleep we get and an increase in nighttime wakefulness. Stress can aggravate these sleep deficits and make it harder to go back to sleep after you awaken in the night. Sleep deprivation can impair memory and hurt emotional control. A lack of sleep also makes it harder to handle daily stress. Cortisol levels keep people awake at night and then our brains respond by making us think about or problems. Lack of sleep also leads to dental problems & then you can’t escape from painful dental implants.

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        4. Heart Disease

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          The link between long-term stress and heart attacks has been well known for years. A recent study made the reasons behind this clearer. In the study, Matthias Nahrendorf, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, discovered that blood samples from people with high levels of stress had a surplus of white blood cells. Cortisol changes the texture of white blood cells making them attach themselves to blood vessel walls. This creates plaque, a key marker of heart disease. The Harvard Medical School study found that a surplus of white blood cells caused hardening in the arteries of stressed but otherwise healthy mice. Taking a DNA test can also tell you if stress puts you at greater risk for heart disease.

          5. Depression

          Depressed woman

            Stress plays a role in depression and brain health. Depression can be triggered by stressful episodes and then take on a life of its own. Stress makes many brain neurotransmitter systems, like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, become out of balance. This causes issues with mood, sleep appetite, and libido. Many severely depressed people have elevated cortisol levels. This can permanently damage brain cells.

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            6. Ulcers and Stomach Issues

            Stomach pain

              Over the last 50 years, doctors have attributed stomach ulcers to stress. It wasn’t until 1983 that researchers found that ulcers are caused by the bacteria H. pylori. However, 15% of stomach ulcers actually occur in people who do not have the bacteria. Also, only about 10% of people infected with the bacteria get ulcers. One theory is that the effect of chronic stress on the immune system lets the H. pylori bacteria thrive. Another theory is that exposure to stress changes the balance of bacteria in the gut allowing harmful bacteria to have the upper hand. This means that ulcers are ultimately the result of stress. Stress is also a critical factor in irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, heartburn, and Crohn’s disease.

              7. Back, Neck and Shoulder Pain

                Neck, shoulder, and back pain are among the most common and costly health complaints. Stress alone does not create this pain; however, stress can intensify the severity and duration of the pain. Musculoskeletal pain is particularly increased by workplace stress. Researchers aren’t sure why this occurs. However, people with stressful jobs report more back, neck and shoulder pain. The theory is that stress-induced inflammation prevents the full healing power to make the pain decrease.

                In case you are facing any of these above symptoms, you should see a doctor. If you are a busy individual juggling family and work pressures, online doctor services might be a good alternative to seeing a doctor physically. These kinds of services allow you to see a doctor at your own convenience.

                Featured photo credit: pressfoto via freepik.com

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                Vikas Agrawal

                Vikas is the co-founder of Infobrandz, an Infographic design agency that offers creative visual content solutions to medium to large companies.

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                Published on July 7, 2020

                Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

                Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

                Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

                Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

                The Skinny on Mental Workouts

                Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

                Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

                1. Improved Memory

                After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

                2. Reduced Stress Levels

                Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

                3. Improved Work Performance

                Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

                4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

                As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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                Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

                Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

                The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

                1. Brainstorming

                One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

                If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

                2. Dancing

                Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

                Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

                3. Learning a New Language

                Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

                With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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                4. Developing a Hobby

                Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

                If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

                For example:

                • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
                • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
                • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
                • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

                Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

                5. Board Games

                Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

                Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

                6. Card Games

                Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

                A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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                7. Puzzles

                Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

                Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

                8. Playing Music

                Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

                Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

                What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

                9. Meditating

                Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

                Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

                • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
                • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
                • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
                • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
                • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
                • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

                10. Deep Conversation

                There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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                Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

                11. Cooking

                When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

                If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

                12. Mentorship

                Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

                Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

                Final Thoughts

                Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

                To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

                More Tips for Training Your Brain

                Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

                Reference

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