Every man must identify and eliminate the sources of stress in his life. Not doing so could result in sickness and even death.
Of the many factors that can reduce a man’s life expectancy, the only ones that most people seem to ever talk about are a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and the toxins and pollutants found in our food and air. But one of the biggest health risks that usually flies under the radar is stress, a silent killer that destroys men and women by the millions.
Stress served us well in our evolutionary past — the “fight or flight” reaction it induced helped protect our ancestors from becoming a lion or tiger’s lunch. But while some stress (“eustress good stress”) is necessary to compel us to move and perform, stress can age us faster and take a toll on our cardiovascular, immune, memory, and reproductive systems if left unchecked. In fact, the grinding pace of modern life has rendered stress a health hazard for many people.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body and mind’s reaction to new situations and problems. When we are stressed, our nervous system releases chemicals to prime our body, hormones prepare the brain for action by making the mind focused and vigilant, our muscles tighten, our heart beats faster and harder, and our breathing accelerates. Our body also suppresses the immune, excretory, and reproductive systems so that every unit of energy can be recruited to allow us to quickly and hastily react to the problem or situation at hand.
If there is real danger, the change in our mental and physical composition is a good thing. But if there is no danger, the result is unnecessary wear-and-tear of the mind and body.
Stress is harming and even killing men at alarming rate, but how did something so necessary for our very survival become so lethal? Short answer: our body and mind haven’t evolved to properly handle the hectic, fast-paced realities of modern society. Stress has become such a routine part of life that we hardly get time to relax and dial things back.
5 Ways Stress Is Killing Men
Our stress hormones are triggered far too easily and far too often by emotions, simple problems, and harmless situations that the body has a difficult time returning things back to a normal state. Our health deteriorates, and commonly-occurring symptoms like headaches, sleeping problems, and back and stomach pain can lead to debilitating and life threatening diseases if left unchecked
Anxiety, lack of motivation, anger problems, depression, and anti-social behavior, as well as the potential abuse of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and other addictive stimulants, are also potential problem areas to watch out for. Here are five particular ways stress destroys the body.
1. Stress And Your Heart
When we are running away from a hungry beast or dealing with any other stressor, stress chemicals empty fat and sugar storage housed in the blood to provide immediate energy, making our heart beat faster to more efficiently deliver oxygen where its most needed for us to either fight or run. A problem arises, however, when the stressor is chronic.
Being stuck in a fight or flight mode due to the various stressors that can arise from home, the workplace, or toxic relationships results in chronically elevated blood pressure that places excessive stress on our small vessels, and the damage this causes cannot be overstated.
Too much stress has been linked to vasculitis, which is the inflammation of the blood vessels. Vasculitis causes changes in the blood vessel walls, including thickening, weakening, narrowing or scarring, potentially restricting blood flow and, consequently, damaging our organs and tissues.
As if that’s not enough, chronic stress can also make the blood viscous like honey, making it difficult for the fat and sugar stores to be released for energy. Narrower vessels, a high blood pressure, and fat and sugar stuck in viscous blood… I hope you know how to cook because this is a recipe for disaster!
Simply put, your body’s ability to supply blood to its various parts, most importantly the heart and brain, is severely compromised, and we all know what happens when the heart decides to call it quits out of the blue…
2. Stress And Your Immune System
Made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs, our immune system defends us against germs and microorganisms every day, and does a great job of keeping us healthy and preventing infections for the most part. However, it is one of the first bodily functions to shut down when we are under moderate or severe stress.
Think about it — protecting the body from infectious organisms and other invaders requires an immense amount of energy, and your body could use all of the energy it can get when running away from that bear and potentially even fighting it. It’s just a matter of priorities.
Our immune response actually gets a boost at the beginning or shortly after a stressor threatens our well-being, but then gets shut down if the stressor remains beyond an hour or so. And the longer the stressor is not addressed, the more the immune system continues to deteriorate beyond baseline. This explains why we get sick so easily when under stress.
Paradoxically, observational studies have shown that too much stress can also lead people to develop a super active immune system and corresponding autoimmune disorders in which the immune system actually attacks healthy parts of the body. An on-off-on-off series of short-term stressors tricks ours stress response into always being alert and engaged, never getting the chance to fully return to baseline. When one stressor begins to subside, another quickly replaces it in a neverending cycle that keeps the immune system overactive, overworked and confused about what activities are good or dangerous for the body.
3. Stress And Your Memory System
Stress affects many memory functions and the cognitive functioning of the brain. While short-term stressors sharpen the memory system and other cognitive and sensory abilities to speed up our reaction and decision making in challenging situations, prolonged stress causes stress hormones to accumulate in the brain, potentially resulting in acute and chronic changes in certain brain areas that can cause long-term damage.
Over-secretion of stress hormones most frequently impairs long-term delayed recall memory and particularly affects the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and amygdala. It causes forgetfulness by interfering with our attention and blocking the formation of new memories or the retrieval of old ones.
If you have been forgetting a lot of things lately, check your stress levels.
4. Stress And Your Fertility
Many forms of stress, including psychological, can affect male fertility and reproduction. A number of studies looking at the effects of psychological stress on male fertility have shown that stress is associated with reduced paternity and abnormal semen parameters.
Mild-to-severe emotional stress depresses testosterone, resulting in a decline in sex drive or libido. It can even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence.
Chronic stress can also impede sperm production and maturation, making it difficult for you to impregnate a woman. Researchers have found that men who experienced two or more stressful life events in the past year had a lower percentage of sperm motility (ability to swim) and a lower percentage of sperm of normal morphology (size and shape), compared with men who did not experience any stressful life events.
Finally, the body can become vulnerable to infection when stress undermines the immune system. And infections to the testes, prostate gland and urethra can all affect normal male reproductive functioning.
Stress as an excellent birth control pill? Who would have thought! Not only is stress slowly killing you, but it might also be denying you the opportunity to create life.
5. Stress And Your Aging
When it comes to aging, the old adage that worrying will give you wrinkles is apt. Although more research is still needed to know exactly how stress contributes to biological aging, it is generally accepted that stress can be a contributor to premature aging.
Hate your job? Well, it’s probably about time you quit. A 2012 study published in the journal PLoS ONE found that work-related exhaustion can harm the critical DNA in our cells. When the researchers measured the length of DNA sections called telomeres , they discovered that individuals with the most job stress had the shortest telomeres. The shorter the telomeres, the easier it is for the cell to be damaged or die, and the faster your body deteriorates into old age.
Stress ages the brain by accelerating the development of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly dementia. Prolonged and repeated adrenaline production induced by stress can also lead to temporary vision and hearing loss as a result of the blood vessels being constricted and blood pressure rising.
Chronic stress makes us reactionary, which often leads to bad decisions, including those pertaining to our health. A 2010 Norwegian study found that the combination of four unhealthy lifestyle factors — poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive drinking, etc. — increased the risk of dying by such a large degree that it was the equivalent to being 12 years older.
Get Stress Out Of Your Life
The takeaway? Cultivating a less stressful lifestyle will help ensure a longer and healthier life. The goal is to feel your prime at any age, so stress management is something you must take very seriously.
When stress seems overwhelming or unmanageable, there are solutions. First, brush aside your ego and see a doctor. It’s a sad fact that men don’t go to the doctor as often as women even when they might be in serious need of help.
Second, nurturing and maintaining a healthy group of social contacts (get rid of the toxic people) can help you cope with stress. Family and friends, in particular, can serve as outlets for frustrating life dilemmas, and the same goes for church and community organizations.
Finally, making good health a priority will help make your body more resilient to stress, and maintaining mental hygiene can make stress episodes shorter-lived. Exercise and meditation have proven to be good stress reducers, so engaging in physical activity to get the blood flowing and meditating on a regular basis to settle the mind can help you remain calm in stressful situations.
Emotional maturity is about knowing yourself and how to properly react to stress. Stress is inevitable, but it’s important to know when to avoid a bad situation. Identify the sources of your stress and then eliminate them out of your life immediately. This may require you to change (or end) bad relationships or situations, but rest assured that your life will be better off.