Chronic Stress : You had me at "Worried to Death."

It’s been reported that eight out of 10 Americans anticipate stress for the holidays! This may be an ideal time to reflect on whether any stress that you may have is seasonal or ongoing. Chronic stress has a negative impact to health, contributing to serious diseases. This article includes information and resources, including a free app from BCBSIL that can help manage stress year round.

Do you ever get the Monday blues? What about every other day? When I started feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, I had to wonder what it meant for my overall health.
It turns out that being "worried to death" – that pat phrase I had tossed around like dressing on a salad – has teeth the size of Grim Reaper's scythe. Here’s why:

The slippery slope of chronic stress can lead to depression  , which is reported to disrupt normal cardiac, metabolic and immune functions, increasing the risk of fatal diseases like hypertension, obesity, heart disease and some types of cancer. 

As a culture, Americans tend to diminish stress. Luckily, this is changing. Adults are reporting high stress levels – more than what they believe to be healthy. Caring for an ill loved one, financial hardship, grief, legal difficulties, disabilities and work challenges, especially when coupled with adjectives like enduring, ongoing, long-term, etc., are examples of chronic high stress. These situations don't start on Monday and end on Friday. Think about moving a family member to an assisted living facility, for example. Movers may do the physical heavy lifting for a few days but who endures the mental equivalent for months?

Several government-funded test studies illustrate how chronic stress leads to depression using lab mice and food pellets. Think of it like this: There are two sets of cousins. We’ll call them the Washingtons and the Lincolns. When the carefree Washingtons and the stressed-out Lincolns get together for a meal, it’s a prime example of how added stress can further suppress the Lincolns from enjoying the moment . A bump in the road won’t stop the Washingtons from savoring  a dessert,  whereas their frazzled cousins, the Lincolns, will be much slower to partake. When it comes to the ability to experience pleasure, the Washingtons don’t hesitate to drink the iced tea, while the LIncolns stick with plain water.  

The results demonstrate that the Lincolns’ chronic high stress prevents neurogenesis or the birth of neurons in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. This hub of the brain is what helps individuals maintain a healthy stress response – a trait of the Washingtons on the relaxed side of the family. Without neurogenesis in the hippocampus, life is likely to be, well let’s say a plain water experience (depressed ) and bad for physical health.

The study also supports the idea that anti  depressants , which can promote neurogenesis, can have real effects for the people who do respond to medications for depression .

We’re all going to feel stress at some time – it’s unavoidable – but the good news is that not all stress is bad, like triggering adrenaline for runners to compete in a race. However, chronic stress can be deadly because of its potential path – clearly another reason for not keeping up with the Joneses!

Ways Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Can Help
One of the first steps to improving your wellbeing is scheduling a preventive care exam. Talk to your doctor about your stress, including any symptoms like excessive fatigue and memory loss which are signs of depression . In most cases, this preventive care exam will be covered at 100% for you each year with no copays or co-insurance, so long as you go to an in-network provider.

If you have a health plan that includes behavioral health benefits through BCBSIL, check out the Behavioral Health program information on treatment for depression .

If you’re a “Lincoln”, consider downloading the free Centered App in the iTunes App Store. Centered is a powerful stress management tool  that guides you through meditation sessions and records your steps, like a pedometer. Let us know how it helps you!

Other resource links related to this post: Time: How Chronic Stress Can Lead to Depression,  Neuroscience at the National Institutes of Health, Effects of High Stress on the Brain and Body in Adults, American Psychological Association Infographic on Stress and NPR Poll Results: For Many Americans, Stress Takes a Toll on Health and Family.

Most recent update: 4/5/2018

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