By Dr. Mercola
The connections between stress and physical health are undeniable. Studies have found links between acute and/or chronic stress and a wide variety of health issues, including:
- Lowered immune system function
- Heightened inflammatory response
- Increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Altered brain chemistry, blood sugar levels and hormonal balance
- Increased risk of cancer and increased tumor growth1
The video above brings up another biological reaction associated with stress: crying.2 Interestingly, tears that are shed due to an emotional response, such as sadness or extreme happiness, contain a high concentration of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) — a chemical linked to stress.
One theory of why you cry when you’re sad is that it helps your body release some of these excess stress chemicals, thereby helping you feel more calm and relaxed.
While crying is a healthy response to a stressful situation, settling in for “a good cry” every day is unlikely to quell the ill effects of stress on your body.
Energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be very effective by helping you to actually reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and meditation are also important “release valves” that can help you manage your stress.
Higher Heart Rate Tied to Earlier Death
Stress can also jack up your heart rate, making you feel like you’re running in a hamster wheel even when you’re sitting down. This too can have a very detrimental effect on your health. According to recent research,3 higher heart rate is tied to earlier death, even in those who exercise regularly. According to MedicineNet.com:4
"Should you be worried if your heart rate is high? Maybe, said study author Dr. Magnus Thorsten Jensen, a cardiologist at Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte. 'A high heart rate does not necessarily mean disease,' he said. 'But we know that there is a very strong and significant association between high heart rate and life expectancy.'"
Dr. Jensen’s previous research had shown that those with a resting pulse of 80 beats per minute die as much as four to five years earlier than those with pulses of 65 beats per minute. This is actually a remarkable finding, as this difference in life expectancy is similar to that of having a cancer diagnosis.
Normally, if you exercise regularly you’re likely to have a much lower resting heart rate than if you do not exercise. As reported by the featured article:
“That raises the issue of whether higher heart rates simply reflect the heart-unfriendly lifestyles of couch potatoes. The new study aimed to answer this question: Does a higher resting heart rate translate to an earlier death even among those who are healthy and exercise regularly? The researchers found that the answer is yes, suggesting that 'resting heart rate is not just a marker of fitness level, but an independent risk factor,' Jensen said.”
The study included nearly 2,800 men who were followed for 16 years, from middle-age onward. For each 10-beat per minute increase in the men’s resting heart rate, the risk of death increased by 16 percent. Compared with those who had a resting heart rate of 50 beats a minute or less, men with resting heart rates of 71 to 80 beats per minute increased their risk of early death by just over 50 percent. Those with heart rates between 81 to 90 beats doubled their risk, and a heart rate over 90 was equated with triple the risk. Dr. Jensen told The New York Times:5
“If you have two healthy people exactly the same in physical fitness, age, blood pressure and so on, the person with the highest resting heart rate is more likely to have a shorter life span.”
Based on these results, Dr. Jensen suggests rethinking the “normal” range of resting heart rate, which is currently set between 60-100 beats per minute, as the higher range appears to be a potent indicator of poor health, independent of physical fitness. So what can you do to improve (i.e. lower) your resting heart rate?
Two of the most obvious strategies include quitting smoking and exercising regularly. Even the mere act of reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down could help. Too much sitting actually takes a heavier toll on your health than you might think. According to research6 published last year, reducing the average time you spend sitting down to less than three hours a day could increase your life expectancy by as much as two years. Reducing your stress and being able to go through your day in a relaxed state would also certainly have a beneficial impact on your heart rate.
EFT — Your Best Defense Against Anxiety and Stress
Even the conservative Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 85 percent of all disease has an emotional element. Many, if not most people carry emotional scars -- traumas that can adversely affect your health. Chronic stress is akin to emotional scarring, and causes ongoing damage to your cells.
According to cellular biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton, the true secret to life does not lie within your DNA, but rather within the mechanisms of your cell membrane. Each cell membrane has receptors that pick up various environmental signals — which includes your thoughts and emotional state — and this mechanism controls the "reading" of the genes inside your cells. Your cells can choose to read or not read the genetic blueprint depending on the signals being received from the environment. This is what is now known as epigenetic control, i.e. the environment within your body — including your emotional terrain — controls your genetic expression, not the other way around.
Using techniques like energy psychology, you can correct the emotional short circuiting that contributes to your chronic stress. My favorite technique for this is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is the largest and most popular version of energy psychology. There are many derivatives of EFT and some likely work even better but EFT is the one that I have the most experience with and is the most established.
EFT was developed in the 1990s by Gary Craig, a Stanford engineer specializing in healing and self-improvement. It’s akin to acupuncture, which is based on the concept that a vital energy flows through your body along invisible pathways known as meridians. EFT stimulates different energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips, while simultaneously using custom-made verbal affirmations. This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist.7 By doing so, you help your body eliminate emotional “scarring” and reprogram the way your body responds to emotional stressors. Since these stressors are usually connected to physical problems, many people’s diseases and other symptoms can improve or disappear as well.
In the following video, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman discusses EFT for stress relief.
While the video above will easily teach you how to do EFT, it is VERY important to realize that self-treatment for serious issues is dangerous and NOT recommended. It is dangerous because it will allow you to falsely conclude that EFT does not work when nothing could be further from the truth. For serious or complex issue you need someone to guide you through the process as there is an incredible art to this process and it typically takes years of training to develop the skill to tap on deep-seated, significant issues.
Cry if You Need to, But Address Your Stress for Longer-Term Benefits
As much as you may try to ignore it, you cannot separate your wellness from your emotions. Every feeling you have affects some part of your body, and stress can wreak havoc on your physical health even if you’re doing everything else “right.”
The classic definition of stress is “any real or imagined threat, and your body’s response to it.” Celebrations and tragedies alike can cause a stress response in your body. All of your feelings, positive or negative, create physiological changes. Your skin, heart rate, digestion, joints, muscle energy levels, the hair on your head, and countless cells and systems you don't even know about change with every emotion.
Fortunately, there are effective tools available to help your body compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting caused by stress that is the root of so much illness and poor health. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and meditation are also important “release valves” that can help you manage your stress.
The beauty about energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is that it can reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, thereby providing a more lasting effect. While it’s easy to do on your own, it’s advisable to seek the help of a licensed therapist8 if you’re dealing with trauma-based stress such as PTSD or grief following the loss of a loved one.