It’s been a ridiculously tough year for many people, and what we’re learning about stress and disease reinforces the importance of taking the best possible care of ourselves in difficult times.
Research in the last couple of years points to stress playing a major role in conditions such as osteoporosis or type 2 diabetes.
Previously we’d have assumed that’s because we could be more likely to skip exercise, drink alcohol, neglect our diet or overeat when we’re stressed.
That happens, of course, but it seems that stress itself has a big impact, probably because it triggers fluctuations in the levels of many hormones.
As an example, if our adrenal glands produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, that can stimulate the release of glucose and raise our blood sugar.
We also know that stress can negatively affect our gut and immune system, which along with high blood sugar, is implicated in many degenerative conditions.
Studies on older women in Italy, the US and Denmark have pointed to a connection between stress, bone density and fracture risk.
Issues such as the quality of relationships have shown up as important. For instance, toxic friendships or strained family situations seem to correlate with bone health.
Scientists have also been trying to join the dots between stress and type 2 diabetes.
Australian and American research has concluded that moderate to high levels of stress can double women’s risk of diabetes, though that doesn’t seem to be the case for men.
A problem with diabetes is that it predisposes us to other conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney and nerve damage.
Stress can be acute or chronic. Acute stress might be a traumatic event, whereas chronic stress could be related to work, family, relationships or finances.
Given none of us are immune from any of it, it’s important that we take the time to consider what effective ‘stress management’ looks like for us as individuals.
In the face of things we often can’t change, how do we hold heart, mind and soul together?
Too many of us avoid reflecting on our own needs, leaving us with no strategy other than soldiering on when the proverbial hits the fan.
But as the research indicates, that doesn’t work.
And as scientists continue down this path it’s inevitable that they’ll find more and more links between stress, hormones and our health.
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