Although you might think of stress as something oppressive and unwanted, it’s actually an important survival mechanism. It’s your body’s automatic response in the face of a threat. All systems go into fight-or-flight mode, marshalling resources to help you either eliminate the threat or get away from it as quickly as possible.
As Hans Selye, the doctor who first identified the stress response, once wrote, “To eliminate stress completely would mean to destroy life itself.”
Trouble is, we live in a world in which the stressors we face are more numerous and far different than those our ancestors faced. An angry boss, a dangerous driver on your commute, financial pressures, social media flame wars – these kinds of things are far less lethal than, say, meeting up with a hungry mountain lion or facing an enemy in battle.
Yet our physiological response is just the same.
And it’s often constant in our 24/7, always “on” culture, where we can be treated to incessant streams of bad, frightening, or difficult news just by glancing at our phone. Chronic stress means the body is always on red alert, always ready to react.
This has major consequences for your health. For one, it fuels chronic inflammation. Under normal circumstances, like stress, inflammation is a good thing. It’s a sign that your body is fending off a threat, such as an infection, or healing from a wound. But if it keeps on keeping on even when there’s no threat present, it lays a foundation for a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
Research has shown that chronic stress actually causes the body to lose its ability to regulate the inflammatory response.
“Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control,” said Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology within CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Cohen argued that prolonged stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone. Specifically, immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect. In turn, runaway inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases.
And that includes gum disease.
Indeed, over the years, science has delineated a clear relationship between chronic psychological stress and gum disease. In fact, chronic stress is one of the major risk factors for periodontitis. (The others include exercise, as we saw last week, diet/nutrition, sleep loss, and, above all, smoking/tobacco use.)
And like all other risk factors, it’s a behavior you can change – and, by changing it, lower your risk. Here are some tips to get you started:
Practice mindfulness – focusing on what’s going on right now, without judgment. Research has consistently shown that it can do wonders for lowering stress and anxiety (not to mention improving your general health).
Exercise. Practices such as yoga and tai chi are especially well-suited for lowering stress, but any kind of exercise you like can help reduce both stress and inflammation.
Include prayer or meditation in your day. Not only can it enrich your spiritual life; it’s been scientifically shown to offset the negative health effects of stress.
Schedule time for yourself to regularly do something relaxing and fun. Making it part of your schedule gives it more priority than just doing something relaxing when you’ve got the time.
Spend time with your pets – or if you don’t already have one, contact an animal rescue to foster or adopt. Pets are fantastic for helping us chill, bringing us to calm.
In a pinch, herbal remedies such as Valerian root, Kava Kava, lemon balm, and lavender can be used for quick calming. Homeopathics such as Calms Forte or Rescue Remedy can also be helpful.
Image by Andrew Imanaka, via Flickr
Originally posted 2017-10-12 07:01:59.