Can Chronic Stress Make Your COPD Worse?

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Chronic stress has been linked to everything from sleepless nights and being overweight to heart disease and stroke! But, can an increase in your stress levels really make your COPD worse? The answer, according to Dr. Hetal Gandhi, a cardiologist at the Heart and Vascular Center of Lake County, Chicago, is yes.

According to Dr. Gandhi:

"When we encounter a stressful situation—no matter how nerve-wracking it may be—our body physically reacts, releasing hormones that enable us to deal with the circumstances: the well-known "fight or flight" reaction. These hormones—adrenaline, which increases our heart rate, and cortisol, which elevates the blood pressure and increases the amount of blood sugar in our system—were intended to help us to survive imminent danger."

But, what happens to those hormones when the source of our stress is not a wild animal trying to eat us for dinner but something much more subtle, like having a disagreement with our spouse or being stuck in traffic? Do prolonged, continual irritants that occur on a daily basis also affect our bodies adversely? You bet they do.

Dr. Gandhi comments further:

"What happens when our bodies release chemicals designed to fight danger, and the sources of this stress remain or we don't get sufficient rest recovery between one stressful event and the next? This prolonged, continual stress—on and off, for days or weeks at a time—is known as chronic stress. Chronic stress has been linked to numerous health problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, cardiovascular problems, headaches and stomach pain, depression, and a weakened immune system."

We have all heard that stress makes you sick, decreasing the body's ability to fight off infection, particularly colds, flu and respiratory illness. But, Dr. Gandhi goes one step further to suggest that stress can make other health conditions worse, as well, such as COPD, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

How to Reduce Your Risk

What can we do about it? Dr. Gandhi suggests the following tips:

  • Get regular exercise - exercise regulates your mood, helps you burn calories and boosts your energy.
  • Get plenty of sleep - adults should get at least 7 hours nightly.
  • Share your feelings openly with someone you trust or keep a journal.
  • Spend time with friends and family - people who do this handle stress more effectively.
  • Meditate - practicing meditation, guided imagery, yoga or other types of relaxation exercises has many benefits, including stress reduction.
  • Eat chocolate - finally, you have permission to indulge your sweet tooth. A recent study suggests that chocolate has been found to decrease stress hormones in the body.
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