How Stress Affects Lung Health
Stress can wreak havoc on the body and even the lungs! Lungs are a part of the pulmonary system. With each breath, oxygen flows in and is delivered to all parts of the body for the wide variety of functions from movement to digestion. The pulmonary system also exhales carbon dioxide, a waste product. The breath comes in through the nose, through the larynx in the throat, to the trachea and into the lungs through the bronchi. The bronchioles deliver the oxygen to the red blood cells which are then distributed throughout the body.
The system works well until is damaged by pollution, smoking, obesity, or even stress and anxiety. Diseases of the pulmonary system are on the rise all over the world- asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and acute lung injury. Stress is playing a role in damaging the pulmonary system, especially for those with the conditions mentioned.
The stress response is innately programmed to help keep us safe from danger and respond during emergencies. The body and brain go into “fight or flight” response to avoid the danger. During this response, your heart rate increases, breathing becomes more rapid, and you may feel “short of breath”. The stress causes adrenaline and cortisol to be released which, ideally expands air passages to take up more oxygen so you can flee the bear, run to catch your child from falling, or avoid the car that swerved into your path.
Thank goodness, these stressors are rare occurrences! The problem is that many of us have the same stress reaction to many everyday situations- relationships, financial strain, difficult work situations, or just daily overload. The body was not designed to deal with chronic stress and eventually it takes a toll on overall health, including lung health. An overdose of adrenaline and cortisol can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and obesity.
Constant exposure to the chemicals released due to stress or anxiety cause inflammation in the body, including the lungs. This can make it harder for the pulmonary system to work properly, especially for those with underlying conditions like asthma or COPD. Stress can cause asthma attacks and worsen other lung conditions.
The key is to reduce stress and the accompanying reaction. In many instances making lifestyle changes is key. Moving away from relationships that are toxic, changing your financial situation, altering the work schedule, or enlisting the help of others to reduce daily responsibility. Taking charge of the stressors in life could be the difference between good health and disease.
In addition to reducing stress triggers, take steps to manage the response to stress:
Develop a practice to allow your body to relax. Studies have proven that the impact of stress can be significantly reduced with the practice of relaxation. Strategies including deep breathing, mediation, time in nature, yoga, visualization, prayer, and tai chi are all proven ways to relax and lessen the impact of stress. Practicing a relaxation technique, daily, is key to controlling reactions. Try these short meditations to get started.
Feel good chemicals are released when you exercise, even if it is just a brisk walk. These chemicals will change the reaction to stress. The next time you are about to explode, take a 5 minute walk, do 10 jump squats, 10 pushups, or 20 jumping jacks. Your body and your brain will react quickly, lessening the negative impact of stress.
Form deep relationships with family and friends. Share your burdens with those in your social support network. Often, others share many of the same stresses and offer support and guidance for solving problems. Sometimes just sharing your burdens, lightens the load.
Eating a diet low in inflammatory fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods will help your body deal better with stress. Eating a diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat, will help your better deal with stress.
Sleep is underrated when it comes to health. Every function in your body works more efficiently when you get the recommended 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. You are better able to manage everyday stresses when your body has had the time to rest and recover.
Stress is very present in our lives. Take steps now to reduce stressors and develop strategies to cope with stress like relaxation, exercise, family and friends, good food and enough sleep. You will breathe easier for a lifetime!
by Christy Coughlin