The harmful effects of stress on men.
In addition to affecting your mental health, stress can also take a toll on your physical health.
Our bodies react to stressful situations by releasing certain hormones that make us more alert. These intense burst of hormones are normal and give us the energy we need to mentally and physically react. However, when stress is ongoing and lasts for weeks or longer, it becomes a chronic condition that can have a detrimental, even life-threatening, effects on your health.
Chronic stress can leave you with a general sense of fatigue, insomnia or depression. Because your body is constantly releasing excess hormones that help you manage stress, it can be both mentally exhausting and physically harmful. When these hormones remain at elevated levels for long periods of time, it can lead to more serious conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
“Stress releases the hormone norepinephrine, which can contribute to high blood pressure,” says urologist, Kevin Billups, MD. “It also releases cortisol, which can increase your blood sugar levels and pre-dispose you to diabetes.”
High blood pressure
When you are stressed, your body releases the hormone norepinephrine. This hormone helps to briefly elevate your blood pressure during times of acute stress by constricting your blood vessels. This makes you more alert and attentive. If you have chronic stress, your body is constantly releasing norepinephrine. Long-term, elevated blood pressure levels put you at greater risk for hypertension, heart disease and kidney damage.
The hormone cortisol is also released during times of stress. This hormone causes a “sugar spike” as your blood sugar levels increase. Increased levels of sugar during acute stress are normal and prepare the body to respond quickly to a situation. The body then releases insulin to regulate the sugar once the stressful situation has passed. When sugar levels remain high for long periods of time, the body can eventually become insulin resistant and increase your risk to pre-diabetes and diabetes.
“People with underlying medical conditions may have greater challenges dealing with chronic stress,” says Dr. Billups. “If you already have hypertension or diabetes then chronic stress builds on top of that and may make those conditions more challenging to treat.”
There are many options to manage and reduce chronic stress. According to Dr. Billups, these include:
- Counseling: If you feel the effects of chronic stress such as fatigue, sleeplessness and depression, make an appointment to discuss your circumstances with a mental health professional. One of the first steps in treating long-term stress is to define the source and develop a response plan.
- Nutrition: Eating right is the foundation for feeling better, regardless of your symptoms. A well-rounded diet provides the body the resources it needs to function properly during times of stress.
- Movement: When your body is in motion it releases a chemical called endorphins. This chemical can produce a positive feeling that helps reduce stress and improve your mood.
- Mindful relaxation: Mindful activities designed to relax the body can also help reduce stress. These include tai-chi, meditation and yoga.
- Sleep: One of the keys to a healthy life is getting enough sleep. Sleep allows your brain to unload any stress it picked up during the day and prepare to start fresh when you wake.
“Often times, all that is required for men to live a thriving and vibrant life are simple lifestyle changes,” adds Dr. Billups.
To help men better manage their health, a new Men’s Health Center has opened at Nashville Health Center Midtown .
About Dr. Kevin Billups, MD.
Urologist Dr. Kevin Billups has dedicated his career to men’s health and sexual medicine for the past 30 years. A graduate of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Billups completed his fellowship in sexual medicine, male infertility and vascular biology at the University of Virginia. His life's goal is to empower men to transform their health and proactively act to prevent chronic medical conditions that are major contributors to suffering and early death. He’s been successful using sexual medicine (erectile dysfunction and testosterone deficiency) to engage men into the healthcare system. Dr. Billups believes that through education and engagement, men become empowered to improve overall health, longevity, performance and quality of life. Dr. Billups leads the Men’s Health Center at Nashville Healthcare Center. He is a Professor of Internal Medicine and Urology at Meharry Medical College.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should talk with your primary care physician or other qualified medical professionals regarding diagnosis and treatment of a health condition.
Stress and Coping, cdc.gov, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2, 2021
Stress and your health, medlineplus.gov, National Library of Medicine, May 10, 2020
Stress, nccih.nih.gov, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, April 2022