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Stress Can Be Taxing on Your Health

Are you stressed out because you haven’t filed your federal income tax papers as the April 15 deadline looms? If so, you are not alone. There are many procrastinators, especially those who owe money. They face penalties and fees if they file late.

For those taxpayers, stress is a common occurrence and likely affects their health, even if its a headache or upset stomach of short duration. This is the time of year when Americans need a reminder of the importance of controlling stress as they confront the challenges of modern-day living. Household finances are a regular source of stress for many people, and tax time can compound the effect, several surveys have found.

A nationwide survey in February found that stress about money and finances appears to have a significant impact on Americans’ lives. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time, and nearly one-quarter say that they experience extreme stress about money, according to the latest Stress in America survey by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association. Twenty-two percent rated their stress about money during the past month as an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale.

“Stress can aggravate or worsen just about any existing health conditions, or create new problems such as anxiety, headaches, muscle aches and even shortness of breath from hyperventilating,” said Yariela  Enriquez, M.D. [1], who practices internal medicine for the Baptist Health Medical Group. “It’s important to treat the stress to help you overcome underlying health problems, such as high blood pressure, digestive problems and risk factors for heart disease.”

Here are the top 5 conditions that can be exasperated by stress:

Heart Disease. It is unclear why some people are more affected than others by stress, but researchers have found that a “Type A” personality carries a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart problems. Stress can have an impact on increasing heart rate and blood flow. It can also cause the release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood. Researchers are currently studying whether managing stress is effective for heart disease, says the American Heart Association (AHA). After a heart attack or stroke, people who feel depressed, anxious or overwhelmed by stress should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professionals, the AHA says.

Belly Fat/Obesity. Too much fat in the belly reportedly poses higher health risks than fat deposits in legs or hips. And people who are more stressed seemed to have a greater propensity for storing fat in the belly. Binge-eating habits are often tied to stress. And obesity caused by stress-fueled eating habits can lead to serious health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Gastrointestinal Problems. Stress does not cause ulcers, but it can create or aggravate digestive problems for individuals with common GI issues, especially chronic heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease or  GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Several factors — both biological and psychological — contribute to gastrointestinal disorders. Numerous studies have suggested that stress may be particularly important in controlling these chronic conditions. “Sometimes, gastrointestinal disorders are functional and a person’s gut or intestinal system becomes hyper-sensitive,” says Michael Sternthal, M.D. [2], a gastroenterologist at the Baptist Endoscopy Center at Coral Springs. “The nerves of the gut represent a large nervous system of its own.”

Depression and Anxiety. Stress can be a major factor in anxiety and depression. A survey of recent studies found that people who were stressed out at their jobs had an 80 percent higher risk of developing depression over time, compared to workers with lower stress.

Diabetes. Stress can harm those already diagnosed with diabetes. It can cause people to binge on unhealthy foods high in carbohydrates, and that scenario can cause glucose levels to surge. People who are pre-disposed to diabetes, either through a family history or lifestyle habits, can increase their risk by stress-induced overeating.