Can Stress Lead to Retina Damage?
Stress is an emotional response that we experience both mentally and physically in situations that are dangerous, antagonistic, frustrating, or intense. More than just a feeling, it can have a profound effect on all aspects of our health. But can it damage the retina?
The Biology of Stress
When we are faced with a stress-inducing situation, our brains trigger an alarm that resonates throughout the body via the nervous system and our hormones. During times of stress, the main hormone at play is cortisol, which boosts the level of glucose in the bloodstream and increases the brain’s ability to metabolize the glucose. Cortisol also restricts other systems, including the immune and digestive systems.
This complex biological alarm system is designed to help us survive in times of peril or distress. Once the perceived threat is gone, the body’s systems are supposed to go back to normal. As such, short bursts of stress are often considered healthy, as they can drive us toward getting to safety, meeting a tight deadline, or scoring the winning goal in a game.
Chronic Stress and Health
When stress is ongoing or chronic, it can have significant and negative impacts on the body. Some of the most common physical manifestations of long-term stress are trouble sleeping, chronic headaches, and digestive issues. Chronic stress has also been linked to the exacerbation of serious health problems, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, chronic stress is endemic to the modern human condition. Research shows that we, along with other primates such as baboons, are more likely than every other animal to suffer from a stress-related condition. This is because we are social creatures with a high level of intelligence and a lot of free time. The energy our ancestors once spent on protecting themselves from predators and solving other potentially fatal obstacles is now being spent on worrying about existential or abstract problems, many of which keep us in a low-grade state of chronic stress.
Stress and the Retina
Chronic stress poses a mostly indirect threat to the retina. For example, older patients who have vascular health conditions such as high blood pressure are already at risk for serious retinal conditions such as age-related macular degeneration or retinal vein occlusion. Because chronic stress can exacerbate these conditions, it can also increase the likelihood of a serious retinal problem developing. Similarly, for diabetics, prolonged periods of elevated stress can impact blood sugar levels and possibly lead to diabetic retinopathy.
Stress can directly or indirectly lead to a slew of health problems throughout the body. Although it’s impossible to get rid of stress altogether, it’s important that we learn how to manage it and keep it in check as much as possible. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a serious retina condition or are at risk, contact Austin Retina to learn more about stress management and other retina health tips.