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How Chronic Distress Impacts Your Health

Distress is epidemic

It has been estimated that in the western world two-thirds – 75% – of all office visits to physicians are stress-related.

It is a major contributing factor either directly or indirectly to the six leading causes of death in the United States, including coronary artery disease, cancer, respiratory disorders, accidental injuries, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.  

Stress aggravates such conditions as

    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Diabetes
    • Herpes
    • Mental Illness
    • Alcoholism and drug abuse
    • Family discord and violence


Stress can make us sick. It isn’t just a theory. Research can measure the results of stress in our bodies. Too much stress over time becomes distress that can have a cumulative damaging effect on our health and life.

A research study at Duke University indicated that mental stress depletes our body of oxygen reducing blood supply to the heart by restricting blood vessels (Ischemia). Myocardial ischemia is a temporary condition that if left untreated can be a precursor to a heart attack. Ongoing tension, frustration and sadness can trigger a drop in blood flow to the heart.

Effects of Prolonged Stress

When we are constantly putting our bodies into survival flight/fight mode, we increase adrenaline into our system that causes our heart to pound and blood pressure to rise adding to the normal wear and tear of our blood vessels and arteries. The fatty acids and glucose dumped into the bloodstream to give us energy to fight or run from a real physical danger, now with nowhere to go, can eventually deposit themselves in the crags and cranies of our arteries and veins.

The damaging consequences of chronically over activating your cardiovascular system has been well documented. If your blood pressure rises to accommodate running away from the hungry tiger at your door, you are adapting and using the F/F system as it was intended.

But when blood pressure is consistently raised because we keep  thinking about our spouse’s transgressions, our dismal work place, the co-worker that drives us up a wall, the constant fear of losing our job, etc. we are headed for trouble.

If you already have heart disease, even small, run-of-the mill stressors, along with anger and hostility greatly increase the risk factor of further damage even when on a low-fat diet. 

Chronic stress keeps the immune system depressed as well so we are more susceptible to disesases and illnesses.

So do we need to take stress serious? Yes we do.  Learning to relax your mind and body is part of it, but the next step is examing the thoughts and beliefs that keep us locked in fear, high anxiety, and worry. 

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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