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Stress Causes Inflammation, and That Makes Everything Worse

Stress is a physical response people experience to feeling threatened or challenged. When it persists, the inflammation that occurs can induce or worsen numerous medical conditions. That includes cardiovascular diseases, mental health issues, neurodegenerative disorders, and even cancer.


People with chronic disease often have chronic inflammation problems that remain untreated.


When people feel psychological or emotional stress, it triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response. That means you’re getting ready to fight for your life or retreat as quickly as possible. One of the effects of this response is the release of a hormone called cortisol.


Cortisol suppresses functions that aren’t essential when you’re in emergency mode, including digestion and immune responses. It also encourages the production of blood sugars to boost the energy supply to your large muscles while inhibiting insulin and narrowing the arteries.


Adrenaline is released at the same time as the cortisol, telling the body to increase its respiratory and heart rate to push more oxygen into muscle tissues.


It’s meant to be an adaptive, short-term response. This hormone flood stays in the body when stress is constant, triggering inflammation.


What Is Inflammation, and Why Does It Matter?


The body’s immune system uses cytokines to attack invaders. This chemical mix encourages inflammation, causing the body to work on flushing out the threat.


It’s a response that occurs whether the immune system sees viruses, bacteria, or emotional stressors as the cause of the problem.


It helps to think of inflammation as the body’s sick behavior. When you experience physical symptoms, that tells you the immune system is fighting off whatever it has detected. Once the job is done, the cytokines disappear.


When chronic stress affects a person’s life, the cycle of issuing an inflammatory response becomes a habit for the body. That’s when the persistent effects of stress on the body start causing detrimental effects.


Although the reasons why this happens are not entirely known since several mechanisms are responsible for disease responses, numerous conditions have chronic low-level inflammation in common.


What Chronic Conditions Have Links to Persistent Stress?


Each person has a unique response to chronic stress. That means the physical symptoms or chronic conditions that develop from the ever-present inflammation are individualized.


The following conditions have links to stress and inflammation.


1. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

This term is an umbrella definition for several conditions linked to inflammation in the gastrointestinal system. Everything from ulcerative colitis to Crohn’s disease fits here because stress can interfere with how the body secrets digestive enzymes. When it is a chronic problem, it may even interfere with how people absorb nutrients while digesting food. [[1]]


2. Depression

The cytokines that encourage inflammation can trigger depression-like symptoms in some people. This outcome leads to more fatigue, a lowered mood, and a lack of life enjoyment. For those who already have these symptoms, the problems can worsen. Exposure to chronic stress may trigger immune cells in the brain, causing a person’s neural circuits to get rewired. [[2]]


3. Cardiovascular Disease

When the fight-or-flight response occurs, a person’s blood vessels become constricted. That forces the heart to start working harder, creating higher blood pressure numbers. That’s why inflammation is believed to be one of the core ingredients of atherosclerosis, which is one of the factors that lead to heart disease.


People who experience above-average stress levels tend to make more unhealthy lifestyle choices than those with normal or below-average exposures. Choices like not exercising, smoking, or vaping can worsen the symptoms of this health concern.


4. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Inflammation is behind this condition, where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and joints. It results in pain and stiffness for the patient that can worsen as time passes. As more damage occurs, abnormalities can make it challenging to use the affected area.




5. Peripheral Neuropathy

As the body gets inflamed, the inflammatory response causes the deterioration of the peripheral nerves. I want you to picture a cable on where you pour acid on top of it the acid will melt the insulation that causes the wires to be exposed to the external environment. This is what happens with neuropathy. Also, the inflammation will also cause damage to your blood vessels that slows down the amount of blood that gets to the nerves. This also adds to inflammation causing neuropathy.


When people experience chronic stress, they’ll release more cytokines that encourage inflammation, worsening the symptoms.


The inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis, along with the additional inflammation it causes, can lead to other medical issues. People with RA experience higher risks of a stroke, heart attack, and cancer.


Reduce Stress to Keep Inflammation Away


You can’t take a pill to eliminate stress from your life. Natural and alternative treatments find success because they treat the person on each level. That includes yoga, meditation, aerobic exercise, journaling, and deep breathing exercises.


If you’re dealing with some chronic issues and have tried other therapies without success, don’t give up! There is a solution out there waiting to be found.


[[1]] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5791012/ [[2]] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S000632231731661X

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