Living Well

How stress impacts health

Dr. Candice Abuso
How stress impacts health

Challenge yourself to live stress-free. Your body will thank you!

The Greater New Orleans area is known as “The Big Easy” because of its laid-back mindset of those who call this part of the country home. Over the past year, though, it became more like “The Big Queasy” as COVID-19 invaded our community, canceled our beloved traditions, and wreaked havoc on all aspects of our lives. Our easy-going attitudes faded as lockdowns continued, and the result for many has been months of incredible stress. While a bit of stress can be good for you, the amount of pressure we have all been under since early 2020 is taking its toll on people as long-term stress is creating long-term health problems.

Stress can trigger many unwelcomed health impacts

The American Psychological Association recently published a report on the year anniversary of COVID. Not surprisingly, if found, many Americans were dealing with a pandemic health crisis and a personal crisis as well. The report notes that among those questioned:

  • 61 percent experienced undesired weight changes, mostly weight gain
  • 67 percent experienced sleep disruption – either sleeping more or experiencing insomnia
  • 23 percent reported drinking more alcohol
  • 31 percent reported an increase in mental health issues

A significant culprit to all of these changes is stress, which is a term that is often thrown around but not entirely understood. Stress was actually coined in 1936 by scientist Hans Selye who observed stress as “being the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” He first observed strain in animals and noted that long-term stress on them caused some to develop diseases similar to those found in humans, such as heart and kidney disease. While stress impacts all areas of our body, it starts in a small area of your brain known as the hypothalamus, which releases stress hormones under certain circumstances. From there, the domino effect occurs. Once the hormones are released, your body can experience:

  • A rapid heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Muscle tension and reaction

These impacts alone can be a good thing if you find yourself in an emergency situation. These three reactions create the “fight or flight” response, such as needed to react quickly to a crisis or get yourself out of a dangerous situation. However, if you are continuously under stress and your body is constantly releasing stress hormones, you could find yourself at risk for long-term health problems.

Stress impacts you from head-to-toe

As mentioned, the impact of stress begins in the brain, but it’s more than just the release of hormones. If you look at the entire body, there’s not a major organ or function that isn’t impacted by stress. Starting with your brain and moving to your toes, impacts include:

  • Headaches, especially tension headaches
  • Heartburn
  • Risk of heart attack
  • Stomach issues
  • Fertility problems
  • Muscle issues, including chronic leg and backaches

And then there are medical issues that involve daily functions and mental aspects of bodies that can be greatly impacted by stress, such as:

  • Increased depression, irritability, and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Weakened immune system
  • High blood sugar and blood pressure

Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction in everyday life, and again, in some circumstances, it’s beneficial for the short-term, but long-term, stress can lead to lingering and life-threatening problems. April is Stress Awareness Month, and if you are dealing with long-term stress, now is the time to get a game plan together to address the issues that are causing excessive stress.

Easy steps to lighten the everyday stress

  • Get regular exercise, preferably 30 minutes a day, as it can help boost your mood and improve your overall health
  • Find ways to relax, either through mediation, prayer, breathing exercises, or other relaxing activities, such as sitting quietly and listening to your favorite music
  • Set realistic goals for the day, so you are not trying to do everything at once, which adds more stress
  • Learn to say “no,” something most of us have a problem with, but decide what is urgent and what can wait and prioritize
  • Reach out to family and friends for support, as talking to someone can ease stress and bring a new perspective to issues that may be bothering you
  • If you find yourself overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from your healthcare provider, as sometimes, we all need a little extra help to get through a difficult time

About Dr. Candice Abuso

Dr. Abuso received her medical degree from Louisiana State University Medical Center- New Orleans, and completed her medical residency at the University of Tennessee. She is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

She joined the Medical Staff at West Jefferson Medical Center in 2000. She was born in Oaklawn, Illinois and raised in Slidell, Louisiana. She attended Salmen High School and has lived on the Westbank since 2000.

With over 15 years of experience, she continues to practice because she enjoys being part of the Westbank community and getting to know her patients and their families.

She chose to practice internal medicine/primary care because it's important to not only manage chronic disease but be proactive in preventions and managing complications of those diseases. 

In primary care, Dr. Abuso hopes to empower her patients to take charge of their health and be active participants in their healthcare.