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Negative Tolls Chronic Stress Can Have on Your Health

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As Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, says, “It’s not stress that kills, but the way you handle stress that kills.” Sometimes, a little stress might be just what you need to push you through a tough project or presentation or a chore you've been dreading.

But constant stress can become wearing, both emotionally and physically. After time, chronic stress starts to chip away at your health. Your blood pressure rises; you toss and turn at night and feel groggy all day; your weight starts to creep up.

"Long-term stress can heighten anxiety; cause sleep disturbance; cause gastroenterology symptoms such as pain, constipation, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome; and elevate blood pressure," says Riva Rahl, MD, Cooper Clinic Platinum Physician.

The Danger of Stress

It’s commonly known that you need to exercise and watch your diet to protect your health, but what you might not realize is that cutting back on stress is just as important for maintaining good health.

"Depending on the amount, type and duration of stress, it can have a harmful effect upon health," adds Dr. Rahl. “The effects of stress can mimic those of unhealthy behaviors, including tobacco use, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating."

And if you carry on day after day letting stress get you down, the news is even bleaker.

"Long-term stress may cause elevation in blood pressure and other chronic diseases, such as depression and anxiety," says Dr. Rahl. "There are some studies showing that individuals with mood disorders, such as depression, do not do as well medically after having had a heart attack."

These chronic diseases certainly pose quality-of-life concerns, which could also affect length of life. Heart attacks, diabetes and other chronic conditions that can be influenced by stress can pose life-threatening complications and poor overall health.

Chronic stress can also increase inflammation in the body, which can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, joint problems and more. And, stress hormones also increase after time, which according to Dr. Rahl, may have a harmful impact on the body.

Daily De-Stressing

The message is clear: You have to find a way to keep your stress at a reasonable, healthy level and figure out how to put a damper on stress before it gets out of hand.

"Stress management is a key element of healthy living," explains Dr. Rahl. That also goes along with other healthy lifestyle factors, such as skipping the use of tobacco products, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and staying active.

"One of the best ways to manage stress is through regular physical activity and exercise," says Dr. Rahl. "Exercise reduces stress and improves health in so many different ways. Physical activity can boost mood, improve energy and significantly improve both quality and quantity of sleep."

But there are lots of other ways you can keep stress under control in your day-to-day life. Practice yoga or find time each day to meditate. Simply take a few minutes to yourself, recommends Dr. Rahl. Switch off your computer and your cell phone to disconnect and de-stress. Treat yourself to a mini-vacation to escape work and the daily grind.

Taking time to relax isn't a luxury, as most of us treat it. Find ways each day to indulge yourself and de-stress. It's the doctor's orders for a healthier, longer life.

For more information about Cooper Clinic or to schedule a comprehensive preventive exam, visit or call 972.560.2667.