The constant stress of living in the age of coronavirus is affecting more than your mental health and emotional coping abilities. It’s likely taking a toll on your body as well.
“We’re living in a sea of stress hormones every day,” said stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor for “Contentment” magazine, produced by the American Institute of Stress.
“We’re not designed for a constant application of these chemicals,” Ackrill said. “The stress hormone cortisol just ravages our bodies when it’s dumped into our system repeatedly.”
Designed to keep you functioning throughout the day, cortisol levels are meant to rise in the morning and decrease as the day lengthens. The hormone’s purpose is to maintain blood sugar levels to keep your brain and muscles functioning and suppress non-vital systems like digestion that might drag your energy down.
But when triggered by a stressful occurrence, cortisol levels suddenly spike, and can take hours to dissipate. If that stress is constant, those levels don’t drop, leading to cortisol malfunction and a disease-causing boost in inflammation.
“Inflammation is behind diabetes. Inflammation is behind heart disease. It’s behind all of the autoimmune diseases. It’s behind asthma and allergies, and the list goes on,” Ackrill said.
If you’re genetically at risk or you already have an inflammatory condition, today’s constant stress may well trigger or worsen your symptoms.
“The predispositions that people have, whether it is asthma or a history of migraine or underlying cardiovascular risk factors, stress on all of those are so much more acute now,” said neuroscientist Peter Kaufmann, former deputy chief of the Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“People have daily stress and often times they don’t have any control over it. That’s when stress has its greatest impact,” said Kaufmann, who is now the associate dean for research and Innovation at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
Not dealing with that stress, he said, can even be deadly.
“In our work, we found that people who show physiological responses to mental stress have about a two- to three-fold higher mortality over the following five years,” Kaufmann said.
Here’s how stress may be impacting five of your body’s key systems.