I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you, wonderful reader, are stressed out right now as you try and scan this while dealing with the boss, the kids, the in-laws and whoever else pops up into your day with demands, requests and problems only you feel like you can handle.

A lot of us are stressed all day, every day. The increasingly fast pace of life, the availability of bad news at every turn on your phones, and everything else has truly put us in a stress crisis. We all say stress is bad, but do you know how badly stress can affect your body?

First, the fine print

Stress, in general, isn’t automatically bad. When you are perceiving any type of threat, the most basic part of your brain wakes up to produce what we know as a “fight or flight” response. This is programmed into you from birth, and it’s meant to get you from harm to safety. In your body, what is actually happening is that a part of your brain is signaling for your pituitary gland to release a specific hormone that stimulates your adrenal gland to produce cortisol and adrenaline. These are the two most well-known stress hormones, and their job is to get your body going to the point where you will be able to survive the threat.

Now, the bad part

The problem with the stress response is that it can be activated in situations where it won’t do any good, and it can keep happening if the issue is not resolved. Work stress, for example, can be perceived by your body as a threat, but it’s unlikely you can just quit your job, so your body keeps producing and maintaining higher levels of the stress chemicals in your body when they are only meant to be there in the short term. This, in turn, can have a significant impact on your health, from inflammation to suppression of your immune system. A study published in the Current Opinion in Psychology journal found that chronic stress at an early age or later in life did, in fact, cause the immune system to function improperly (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/).

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to curing all of your stress, but you can take some action. Think about what you can control and what’s out of your hands, and focus your energy on what you can control. Use stress management practices to tackle what you can’t control, and as always, take care of yourself by eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

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