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Chronic stress is a fact of modern life, but for millions of Americans it is also a hidden driver of mental and physical health disorders. Chronic stress increases your risk for anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease, immune disorders and cardiovascular problems, studies show.
Left unchecked, it can be deadly. Work-related stress causes 10 percent of strokes, increases the risk of heart disease by 40 percent, heart attack by 25 percent, and shrinks the brain, say researchers.
According to the American Institute of Stress, a whopping 44 percent of Americans feel more stressed out than they did 5 years ago which makes this issue more monumental than ever.
“Stress can put a significant strain on the cardiovascular system,” acknowledges noted Raleigh, N.C.-based cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell. He tells Newsmax Health that for “people with underlying heart disease, added stress can put them at a much higher risk for an event such as heart attack or stroke.”
According to Dr. Heidi Hanna, Ph.D., executive director of the American Institute of Stress and a New York Times bestselling author of “The SHARP Solution and Stressaholic,” adds that stress is a silent killer.
“People who experience chronic stress not only have an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease but experience decreased immune functioning, increased rates of depression, impaired sleep, poorer short- and long-term memories and decreased cognitive performance,” she notes.
In fact, one study showed that adults with high levels of stress performed 50 percent poorer on certain cognitive tests compared to adults with lower stress levels.
“Physically, stress also causes the body to produce a cascade of hormones that increase the appetite and compel us to crave high calories, high fat foods,” Hanna tells Newsmax Health.
In the workplace, the cost of stress-related illnesses and issues is now approaching an incredible $600 billion in the United States.
Here are eight silent symptoms of stress that should alert you to take action:
Weekend headaches. A sudden drop in stress can trigger migraines, say experts. Stick closely to your weekday sleeping and eating schedules to minimize the triggers.
An achy mouth. A sore jaw can be a sign of nocturnal teeth grinding which can be worsened by stress according to the American Dental Association. Ask your dentist to fit you for a mouth guard.
Nightmares. When you are under severe stress, you tend to wake up more often at night, allowing unpleasant dreams to surface, says Dr. Rosalind Cartwright, Ph.D., an emeritus professor at Rush University Medical Center. Develop good sleep hygiene and avoid caffeine and alcohol at bedtime.
Bleeding gums. According to a Brazilian study, stressed-out folks have a high incidence of periodontal disease. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may impair the immune system and allow bacteria to invade the gums. Keep a toothbrush handy at your desk if you eat your meals at the office, suggests Dr. Preston Miller, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology.
Sudden acne outbreaks. Stress can lead to inflammation which causes breakouts and adult acne say experts. Use an anti-bacterial lotion and a moisturizer so your skin doesn’t get too dry. See a dermatologist if the condition doesn’t clear up within a few weeks.
A sweet tooth. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that stress can trigger chocolate cravings. Try grabbing fruit instead or choose cocoa-rich dark chocolate which is a healthier option.
Itchy skin. A Japanese study found that people who suffered from pruritis or itchy skin were twice as likely to be suffering from stress. Again, try to identify and reduce your stress or seek medical help to calm the itching.
Stomach aches. Anxiety and stress can cause digestive problems, say experts. One study of close to 2,000 men and women revealed that those experiencing the highest levels of stress were more than three times as likely to have abdominal pain as their calmer colleagues.
To deal with stress, Hanna has developed what she calls the “Triple A” approach:
- Find out the underlying cause of your stress and come up with coping strategies.
- Cultivate gratitude in your life. Slow down, take a break, and focus on something positive for a few minutes each day. This helps to trigger the release of “feel good” hormones and opens up neural pathways for better problem solving.
- Pick one thing to take action on right now. Knowing that you have the ability to improve your circumstances can help motivate you to take bigger steps in a most positive and stress-free direction