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Stress seems to be an unfortunate part of daily life for most Americans. That’s why it can be helpful to look at the impact that chronic stress has on your health. If you have a chronic illness or another health condition, you experience additional stress. Learning more about how to manage your stress can help your body feel better.
Studies consistently show that the majority of Americans are living with moderate to high levels of stress in their daily lives. In fact, results from a recent Stress in America survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), show that many American adults feel that their stress levels are increasing, rather than decreasing. Why are we so “stressed-out”?
The last year has been particularly difficult as we navigated a global pandemic. The APA anticipates that the level of prolonged stress Americans are experiencing is likely to reveal a secondary crisis with persistent and serious physical and mental health consequences. Beyond the particular stresses of this year, however, the most frequently cited sources of stress are money, work, the economy and health. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, health has taken a backseat for many Americans, with 47% of those surveyed reporting that they delayed or canceled health care services, and 53% of those surveyed saying they have been less physically active. Being concerned about your physical health can be stressful as it is, but these stresses are amplified when it feels like a risk to get the health care you need. So how does all this stress affect your body?
Stress, to a certain degree, is healthy—even necessary—for survival. When faced with a dangerous situation, for example, your pupils dilate, your pulse and rate of breathing increase and your muscles tense. Essentially, all your body’s systems support its effort to either fight or flee to safety. Indeed, many events can trigger this “fight or flight” stress response — getting married or divorced, commuting to work every day in heavy traffic or even taking a test. Under normal circumstances, once the stressful life-event is over, your body should return to normal functioning. When the source of your stress is constant, however, all those hormones and brain chemicals that were called upon to get you through that stressful situation end up doing more harm than good.
Eventually, chronic stress takes a toll on your health. You may experience musculoskeletal pain, breathing problems, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal problems, reproductive problems, weakening of your immune system and more. Chronic stress increases your risk for a number of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression and obesity.
Stress causes your respiratory system to react, causing shortness of breath, rapid breathing and other symptoms. This is less of a concern for people without respiratory problems, but for those with lung disease and other breathing difficulties, stress can make breathing problems even worse. These breathing problems can become circular, as the respiratory symptoms caused by stress can actually bring more stress, which in turn brings additional breathing problems.
Because stress can cause you to breathe faster than normal, but less efficiently, those shallow breaths do not oxygenate your blood correctly. As your oxygen levels get lower with shallow breaths, your brain triggers faster breathing. Because those breaths are still shallow, you just don’t get the oxygen your body needs. Over time, chronic stress can cause ongoing lowering of your oxygen levels.
Stress can be particularly problematic for people living with chronic illness, as their systems are already taxed. The effects of stress, then, become even more problematic and can make existing issues even worse. The stress hormone, cortisol, can worsen heart and lung conditions. For people with chronic lung disease or illnesses that impact their respiratory systems, added stress can worsen symptoms, making breathing even more difficult. Then, the potential for stress itself becomes stressful for someone who already struggles to breathe.
For many people, having a chronic illness, like COPD, means having to use supplemental oxygen. This, in and of itself, can be a significant source of stress, especially when you’re faced with the additional challenge of having to plan your daily life around your oxygen supply source. Add up having to balance your symptoms, navigate your oxygen equipment and prepare for and manage stress, and it’s a lot to take on.
Believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to combat the effects of stress on the body is to work on your breathing. This may seem ironic for someone who already struggles with their breathing, but the fact remains that breathing correctly reduces stress. Especially for someone with respiratory problems, breathing correctly is essential. Not only will proper breathing technique lower your cortisol and noradrenaline levels and reduce the negative impact of stress on your body, but it will help return your oxygen levels to normal, so that you don’t continue to experience the ongoing effects of stress.
Learning breathing techniques for stress and anxiety, like pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, can help you slow your breathing when you feel panicked or stressed. In order to be able to use these breathing exercises effectively in times of high stress, practice them regularly when you feel calm. This way, you can teach your body what it feels like to breathe correctly, and you will be able to better manage stress and oxygen levels in times of stress.
While learning how to breathe effectively and efficiently goes a long way in helping to reduce stress and improve your oxygen levels, you may still need to use supplemental oxygen to help you get the oxygen you need. Inogen One Portable Oxygen Concentrators take the stress out of worrying about oxygen. Less stress means breathing easier. It also leaves more time for you to enjoy the freedom and independence that’s afforded you when you use a portable oxygen delivery system that is lightweight, dependable and versatile. Because each of our Inogen One units weighs less than 5 pounds, they offer the portability and ease of use that free you from being stuck at home, tied down to endless miles of tubing and heavy tanks.
Improve your stress and oxygen levels by getting the oxygen you need from one of our innovative Inogen One Portable Oxygen Concentrator models. Contact us to take the stress out of using supplemental oxygen and breathe better today.
Oxygen. Anytime. Anywhere.
Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN
 “One Year on: Unhealthy Weight Gains, Increased Drinking Reported by Americans Coping with Pandemic Stress.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 11 Mar. 2021, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/03/one-year-pandemic-stress.
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