Your Health: Stress can cause poor health
by Terry Hollenbeck, M.D.
Dec 21, 2012 | 1316 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print

As wonderful as the holiday season can be, social events, shopping, home decorations and many other holiday activities can really stress us out.

Could this cause health issues? You bet.

Stress not only makes us feel awful emotionally, but it can actually make us ill.

When we feel stressed, our bodies respond by releasing energy-producing hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This causes the “flight or fight” response that physically prepares us to respond to a stressful situation.

Have you ever had your heart pound quickly with rapid breathing when you’ve been suddenly startled by something or when you’ve been in a very emotional argument? These reactions are caused by the flight-or-fight response.

Usually, when the stress is over, the stress hormones revert back to normal levels, we feel better and no harm is done.

If stress persists, though, and we are constantly bombarded by the stress hormones, many of our bodily functions can be disrupted, leading to significant health problems.

Chronic stress can cause some troubling health problems:

- Heart disease, especially high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes

- Insomnia and depression

- Obesity and digestive problems

- Asthma and diabetes

- Alzheimer’s disease and accelerated aging

Although we may not be able to eliminate all of our stresses, we can change how we respond to them.

Stress management is a recognized method of dealing with stress by using these strategies while in the throes of a stressful situation:

Take some deep slow breaths and try to relax tensed-up muscles, such as those in the jaw and the shoulders.

Reframe your stressful situation by finding something positive about what is going on at the time.

Focus on the present moment, as much of our stress comes from something in the past or in the immediate future.

Keep things in perspective — does the stressful event really have any long-term consequences?

Think about all the good things in your life.

Consider more long-term techniques for dealing with life’s stresses, too, such as regular exercise (that’s one reason I ride my bicycle as often as I can).

It also helps to maintain a healthy diet, get adequate rest, foster enjoyable friendships and have a good sense of humor.

Try practicing yoga or other known relaxation techniques, or rely on your own personal religious beliefs to find peace and comfort.

Managing stress will not only improve our piece of mind but will promote a healthier and longer life.

Have a very relaxing and peaceful holiday.

- Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website,, or email him at Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.

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