Between a busy career and a full home life, it is no wonder that people often find themselves stressed out and anxious.
Of course, everybody processes and reacts to stress differently. Whether you ignore your issues and bury them in the closet or scurry about trying to stay ahead of the issues piling up, stress can affect you in more ways than just hair pulling and tears.
In fact, studies show that stress actually affects every organ in the human body, including the lungs.
Acute stress, meaning the body’s reaction to a sudden, immediate event, typically causes a fight-or-flight response when the event is life threatening. Additionally, the onset of stress can cause the following symptoms:
- Rapid heartbeat;
- Trembling or shakiness;
- Muscle tension such as tightened jaws, stiff neck and tight shoulders;
- Back pain;
- Fast and shallow breathing;
- Excess sweating and sweaty palms;
- Stomach discomfort, nausea and/or diarrhea.
In the case of a life-threatening, stressful event, the body prepares for an emergency. Starting with a surge of adrenaline, the lungs will abruptly take in more oxygen and push it through the rest of the body by means of a racing heart.
An individual’s blood flow increases an estimated 300 to 400 percent during a stressful event.
When an individual suffers from a chronic lung disease like COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, their ability to navigate stressful situations is compromised due to difficultly breathing and the inability to take in large amounts of oxygen.
This can lead to an increased likelihood for flare-ups. Consider when an individual with healthy lungs is placed in a stressful situation; it is not uncommon for him or her to hyperventilate when panicking.
For somebody with COPD or another chronic lung disease, hyperventilation is a precursor to a full-fledged COPD flare-up.
Chronic stress is ongoing stress in somebody’s life. This could be related to outside influences such as work, finances, family or health issues. Chronic stress can lead to a variety of negative effects on your body. According to WebMD, prolonged stress can cause the following issues:
- Immune system: Constant stress can increase the likelihood of you getting sick. Additionally, chronic immune illnesses like AIDS can be aggravated by stress.
- Heart: Probably the most acknowledged negative side effect, stress has been linked to high blood pressure, arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat), blood clots and the hardening of arteries. Not to mention, stress has been linked to heart disease, heart attack and heart failure.
- Muscles: Constant tension from stress can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain. In addition, stress can trigger rheumatoid arthritis.
- Stomach: If you suffer from Crohn’s disease or colitis, stress can further aggravate your irritable bowel syndrome.
- Skin: Both acne and psoriasis have shown a negative connection to stress.
- Lungs: Stress can worsen the symptoms of asthma and chronic lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
As a result of the effect of both acute and chronic stress on the lungs, many sufferers of a chronic lung disease find themselves trapped not knowing what to do. It is a vicious circle.
First, sufferers are stressed due to their condition; second, sufferers trigger flare-ups due to their stress levels; third, the additional flare-ups and stress levels worsen their condition; and finally, the sufferers become increasingly stressed—the cycle goes on.
Learning how to manage your stress is the best first-line defense against its cruel effects. For many, this can be extremely difficult. Tomorrow, we will be discussing all the different ways you can learn to manage your stress and prevent any flare-ups.
Another way to lower your stress levels is to improve your health. For sufferers of a chronic lung disease, that means improving your lung function in hopes of breathing easier.
Christine Kingsley, APRN is the Health and Wellness Director at the Lung Institute where she focuses on providing helpful online resources for people looking for information on various lung diseases, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices. She advocates for holistic care that involves working with your doctor to explore all options including traditional and alternative care while focusing on diet and exercise as proactive measures.