Stress Can Make You Sick

Man with dogProtect Yourself

We all experience stress — whether it’s at home, at work or in our relationships. While a little stress is OK — and can actually be beneficial for problem solving — too much can literally make you sick. The trick is learning how to manage it. We’ll break it down for you.

What Is Stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to any demand. It triggers a fight or flight response in the body, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure and releasing hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.

How Does it Affect the Body?

When stress becomes a chronic part of your life, it can lead to problems like inflammation, sleepless nights and high blood pressure — all of which contribute to heart disease, said Catherine Prince, D.O., a cardiologist with Northstate Cardiology Consultants.


 Stress and cortisol levels have been shown to cause people to crave high-fat and/or high-sugar foods," said Enloe registered dietitian Buck August.

It can also increase your risk for:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • And stroke

Many people report stomach trouble when they’re stressed. Enloe registered dietitian Buck August explains that stress can impact the digestive system in many ways, including increasing or decreasing appetite, and causing digestive pain, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation. Stress can also make you gain weight.

“Stress and cortisol levels have been shown to cause people to crave high-fat and/or high-sugar foods,” August said.

Proven Stress Busters


 Doodle, draw, paint or color. These are verified tools for stress reduction - and a reason why adult coloring books have become so popular.

So, how can you find your Zen? According to the American Psychological Association, the top ways Americans manage stress include listening to music, exercise, prayer, and meditation or yoga. But there are other ways you can find harmony, too. Try these.

  • Hug someone: Hugging or receiving a warm touch reduces cardiovascular stress and releases oxytocin, the “love hormone” that decreases blood pressure and stress levels, and increases feelings of happiness, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Try aromatherapy: Certain scents can alter brain activity, decrease stress hormones and help you sleep, relax and be more present. Enjoy essential oils, diffusers or candles for soothing benefits. Enloe uses aromatherapy in the hospital to support patient care.
  • Write it down: Offloading worries to pen and paper can free up the brain to accomplish other tasks more efficiently. Creating a gratitude list also improves mental health and quality of life, according to Harvard Medical School.
  • Be creative: Doodle, draw, paint or color. These are verified tools for stress reduction — and a reason why adult coloring books have become so popular.
  • Pet an animal: Interaction with pets and animals reduces stress hormones and blood pressure, relieves loneliness, and boosts social support and mood, according to NIH. Give it a try.

By taking steps to manage your emotions, you’re on your way to creating a healthy response to stress and reducing your risk of negative health effects.

Need Extra Help?

If you're overwhelmed by stress, reach out to your primary care provider or a counselor. Or contact Behavioral Health at (530) 332-5250 for a free assessment and/or referral support.

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    Drs. Voelker and Lobosky honored with 2014 Physician Legacy Award

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    Drs. Voelker and Lobosky honored with 2014 Physician Legacy Award

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