man with emotional support dog

Everybody experiences stress in their lives. Whether it be acute stress like being late to work, or something more long-lasting after a pivotal life event, stress is inevitable. But while being stressed from time to time isn’t going to harm you in the long run, chronic stress – or stress that is long-lasting and continuous – can be seriously harmful to your health. So is stress a silent killer?

Chronic stress can happen to anyone and can build up over time. Little stressors that continue to occur, such as losing sleep because of long work hours, raising a family, and trying to get ahead financially, all add up in a big way. When these stresses accumulate, they can lead to serious and often irreversible effects on the body.

What are the negative health effects of stress?

Chronic stress can…

Make it difficult to handle emotions

When you’re seriously stressed out, even small inconveniences can trigger big reactions. This is because when a person is under constant stress, it can physiologically impair their brain’s ability to control emotional responses. The cognitive techniques that are often used to help control feelings of fear and anxiety become less effective, thus potentially causing you to “fly off the handle” more easily when you’re under stress.

Promote disease

Certain people are more susceptible to disease than others, and when they are under a lot of stress, it essentially drives the development of disease. Some conditions that have direct ties to chronic stress include cancer, lung disease, and psychological diseases such as depression. Both physical and mental health are affected by chronic stress.

person experiencing chonic stress
Image by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash: Is chronic stress serious? It definitely can be.

Ruin teeth and gums

In some cases, people who are stressed out deal with it by unconsciously grinding their teeth or developing nervous tics. If stress is chronic, these habits become chronic, too, and long-term teeth-grinding can have a long-term impact on oral health. Stress has also been linked to the development of gum disease.

Harm your heart

Being highly stressed can physically damage the heart. This is because as stress hormones get released, they can cause the heart rate to increase and the blood vessels to constrict. When that happens, the heart has to work harder and increases blood pressure. Over time, this can lead to heart attacks and sudden death.

Lead to weight gain

Research has shown that people who are under a lot of stress tend to eat 40% more food than they usually would. This excessive calorie intake can, over time, lead to obesity.

Cause premature aging

Telomeres, which are specific structures on the end of chromosomes, play a role in cell growth. Being consistently stressed ends up shortening these telomeres, which leads to a lessened ability for the body to grow new cells. Because of this, people who are highly stressed often age prematurely and develop wrinkles, weak muscles, and poor eyesight earlier than they otherwise might have.

Weaken the immune system

When a person is stressed out, it causes many of their bodily systems to go on high alert. This extra work that the body goes through makes the immune system weaker and can lead to a higher susceptibility to colds and infections.

Lead to long-term disability

Many conditions such as high blood pressure, mental illness, and stroke can cause a person to become disabled – and being stressed out for long periods of time can lead to those conditions.

Can you get an emotional support dog for stress?

Even though chronic stress can lead to some seriously detrimental health issues, there is some good news. Emotional support dogs or other animals are great options to help you curb your chronic stress and restore some calm back into your world.

white esa dog running outdoors in field
Image by Joe Caione on Unsplash: Can I get an ESA for stress?

How do emotional support animals help with stress?

Emotional support animals are there to help you get through periods of high stress. Research has found that simply by petting a furry animal, you can decrease your blood pressure and initiate the release of feel-good hormones in the brain.

If you have an emotional support animal that needs time outdoors, such as a dog, it can also help to alleviate stress by helping you get more exercise. There have been countless studies that prove exercising more regularly can help combat the effects of chronic stress, so having an emotional support animal that requires daily walks is a great way to reap the benefits of exercising daily and having the company of an ESA.

Emotional support animals are also loyal confidants, so if you’re stressed out and need to vent, they will be there for you without judgment! Spending time with your ESA can help you calm down in moments of high stress. Getting an emotional support animal for chronic stress may just be the best thing you ever do for yourself and your health.

Featured image by Eric Ward on Unsplash