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Stress is an unavoidable part of life. I mean, it would be nice if we could go most of our lives with little to no stress, but for many of us, that’s just not how life works out. Whether it’s related to work, family, finances, or just little irritants through the day like traffic, we’re regularly exposed to stressors. And while mild stress is usually manageable in a variety of ways, the link between chronic stress and some medical conditions is undeniable.

When you’re stressed, your central nervous system (CNS) goes into what is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. Your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, your eyes dilate, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure increases, your muscles tense, and your digestion stops to allow blood to be redistributed to those muscles needed to fight or run for your life. When the perceived threat is gone, the CNS will usually act to ease the mind and body, going back to a state often referred to as “rest and digest”, because the body calms and functions return to normal. However, chronic, or long-term stress means that signal may not be sent for quite some time, so your body is staying in that state of stress for far too long. This can wreak havoc on your body over time. Here’s 4 conditions that can be directly related to chronic stress.

Insomnia: When you’re stressed, your mind never turns off due to all those perceived ‘threats’. This can easily lead to trouble sleeping. You may be planning the next day’s events, worrying about bills, family issues, or any number of other problems. But if this continues over time, it’s not just about having trouble turning your mind off to fall asleep, but can progress into true insomnia; an inability to fall asleep, even when the brain and nervous system have calmed. Not getting enough sleep only continues to add to the problem, by increasing your body’s level of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Depression: When you’re in a constant state of stress, especially when the root of your stress isn’t easily resolved or is out of your hands, depression is common. Feeling like you have no control over your life leads you feeling helpless, hopeless, and sometimes even angry. You may distance yourself from your loved ones and avoid activities you once enjoyed.

Heart disease:  When you’re stressed, your body produces a large amount of adrenaline and cortisol, both hormones that put physical stress on the heart. Because these hormones cause the heart and blood vessels to work harder, over time this can lead to damage to those structures.

Digestive disorders: When you’re in that fight or flight stage, your digestive system shuts down most of its functions. This can cause problematic delays in the digestive process, leading to constipation, diarrhea, and making you more susceptible to the development of stomach ulcers. Long term stress can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and ulcerative colitis.

While we may not be able to control the stresses that pop up in life, we CAN control how we react to them. So even though we experience stress, we can make choices that allow us to handle that stress in a healthy way; in a way that keeps our bodies from becoming damaged from the stress. And don’t forget to add massage therapy into your regular stress-management routine to keep you as healthy and happy as possible!