Stress Can Wreak Havoc on Physical Health


Sponsored by Central Florida Health Care

Stress affects everyone on a daily basis. Some types of stress motivate people to do what needs to be done every day. Then there are times when stress causes us discomfort, unhappiness, and even chronic health conditions. 

We talked with Julie Decanio, LCSW, who is a mental health therapist with Central Florida Health Care, to learn more about how stress can affect people and what causes it.

“A lot of people have depression, anxiety, or both, and it could be anything – grief, a move, relationship issues, or health problems,” Decanio explains. 

“(At Central Florida Health Care), it’s a little easier for us because we have their primary care person in the same building. So if their anxiety is making their diabetes symptoms worse – everything affects everything – we can help each other work with the whole person.” 

Stress alone can cause a number of physical symptoms, but it can also contribute to many serious health conditions. 

“Some people will have panic attacks,” she says, “other people are always on high alert if they have PTSD from something that happened. That could be from being in the military, a sexual assault, or a car accident. Then they sometimes have somatic symptoms, like headaches, ulcers, or problems eating and sleeping. Of course, that can make other issues worse, like high blood pressure and heart disease.” 

The effects of stress on a person’s well-being can vary from one individual to another, and it can affect a wide range of systems in the body. Stress can cause weight gain, weakened immunity, heart problems, sexual dysfunctions, and more. Left unchecked, stress can lead to chronic health conditions.

It’s often impossible to entirely eliminate the sources of stress, but there are ways to manage stress to minimize the impact on one’s health.  

“We try to teach them coping skills and how to manage their stress with things they like to do, whether it’s journaling, blogging, talking to a friend, or coming to therapy,” Decanio says of how the clinic helps patients deal with stress. “They may need to try some medications to see if that helps.”

When patients visit Central Florida Health Care with chronic health issues, Decanio and the other medical professionals work together to create a complete picture of an individual’s lifestyle and medical profile. The healthcare team strives to help the patient get their stress and well-being under control by offering various stress-management  techniques, such as therapy, medication, nutrition counseling, and exercise recommendations.

There are so many ways that stress can affect a person physically, but it can still be a challenge to pinpoint exactly which symptoms are caused by stress and which are the result of a purely physical condition. When patients visit the clinic with health complaints, Decanio and other staff members go through a process to determine what issues are caused by an underlying physical problem and what may be stress-related.

“Everybody seems to respond to stress differently,” she explains. “So when people come in, we usually ask if they’ve seen their doctor and if they’ve had blood work done. Maybe their potassium is low, we might check their thyroid, their vitamin D might be low. We try to rule out that stuff first, and then we try to get their cortisol level down.”

The key to finding a stress management strategy that works for you is to find an activity or method of stress reduction that you enjoy. Whether it’s a creative outlet, physical activity, or social interaction, your enjoyment will make it easier to sustain for true stress relief.

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