Chronic Stress : You had me at "Worried to Death."

It’s been reported that eight out of 10 Americans anticipate stress for the holidays! This may be an ideal time to reflect on whether any stress that you may have is seasonal or ongoing. Chronic stress has a negative impact to health, contributing to serious diseases. This article includes information and resources, including a free app from BCBSTX that can help manage stress year round.

When I found myself feeling like rainy day Mondays (and every other day) always got me down or the weight of the world was on my shoulders, it caused me to wonder what these chronic stress clichés could be saying about my overall health.

It turns out that being "worried to death" – that pat phrase I had tossed around like dressing on a salad – has teeth the size of Grim Reaper's scythe. Here’s why:

Chronic stress can lead to depression  and depression is reported to disrupt normal cardiac, metabolic and immune functions, increasing the risk of fatal diseases like hypertension, obesity, heart disease and some types of cancer.  

As a culture, Americans tend to diminish stress, although this is changing. Adults are reporting high stress levels – more than what they believe to be healthy. Caring for an ill loved one, financial hardship, grief, legal difficulties, disabilities and work challenges, especially when coupled with adjectives like enduring, ongoing, long-term, etc., are examples of chronic high stress. These situations don't start on Monday and end on Friday, like moving a family member to an assisted living facility. Movers may do the physical heavy lifting for a few days but who endures the mental equivalent for months?

Several government-funded test studies illustrate how chronic stress leads to depression using lab mice and food pellets. To better relate, I simplified (Texas-style) the test scenarios, replacing the mice with two sets of cousins, the Smiths and Joneses, and food pellets with peach cobbler. What happens when the carefree Smiths and the stressed-out Joneses get together shows how added stress further suppresses the Joneses from enjoying the moment. A bump in the road won’t stop the Smiths from savoring the peach cobbler  whereas their frazzled cousins, the Joneses, will be much slower to partake in the dessert. And when it comes to the ability to experience pleasure, the Smiths don’t hesitate to drink the sweet tea while the Joneses stick with plain water.  

The results demonstrate that the Joneses’ chronic high stress prevents neurogenesis or the birth of neurons in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. This hub of the brain is what helps individuals maintain a healthy stress response – a trait of the Smiths on the relaxed side of the family. Without neurogenesis in the hippocampus, life is likely to be, well let’s say a plain water experience (depressed ) and bad for physical health.

The study also supports the idea that anti  depressants , which can promote neurogenesis, can have real effects for the people who do respond to medications for depression .

We’re all going to feel stress at some time – it’s unavoidable – but the good news is that not all stress is bad, like triggering adrenaline for runners to compete in a race. However, chronic stress can be deadly because of its potential path – clearly another reason for not keeping up with the Joneses!

Ways Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas Can Help
One of the first steps to improving your wellbeing is scheduling a preventive care exam. Talk to your doctor about your stress, including any symptoms like excessive fatigue and memory loss which are signs of depression . In most cases, this preventive care exam will be covered at 100% for you each year with no copays or co-insurance, so long as you go to an in-network provider.

If you have a health plan that includes behavioral health benefits through BCBSTX, check out the Behavioral Health program information on treatment for depression .

You can also download the free Centered App in the iTunes App Store. Centered is a powerful stress management tool  that guides you through meditation sessions and records your steps, like a pedometer.

Other resource links related to this post: Time: How Chronic Stress Can Lead to DepressionNeuroscience at the National Institutes of Health, Effects of High Stress on the Brain and Body in Adults, American Psychological Association Infographic on Stress and NPR Poll Results: For Many Americans, Stress Takes a Toll on Health and Family.

Most recent update: 4/5/2018

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