Stress seems to be a ubiquitous factor leading to nearly any health problem imaginable. This nebulous category is something that we have all experienced from time to time, but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what happens in the body when we are stressed out.
Some of the statistics about stress suggest that there is a relationship with capitalist development; higher rates of stress are reported in the most developed countries of the world. Whether it comes from unexpected traffic on your daily commute, or more serious worries about the state of the world, stress can have long-lasting and damaging effects on physical and mental health. Some of the health issues associated with stress are cardiovascular disease and anxiety disorders, but did you know that stress is indirectly correlated with hearing loss, as well?
The effects of stress on the body are such that a chain reaction is set in motion, leading to an array of health issues, some of them quite serious. If these effects are so acute, we need to ask ourselves first what exactly stress is, how it functions, and what we can do to reduce the relation with poor health outcomes, even including hearing loss.
What is stress?
Although your first association with stress might be that it is a bad thing, not all forms of stress are harmful. Distress is the feeling of panic, engaging the fight-or-flight response in the central nervous system. Although this feeling of distress is harmful when mis-applied, don’t forget that distress is a crucial response in a legitimate emergency.
Beyond distress, we can also think about “eustress,” the response of the mind and body to positive stimuli that makes the body energized. Whether the feeling we get in the presence of a romantic crush or the excitement before going to perform on stage, eustress helps us rise to an occasion. With similar results in faster heart rate and breathing, this energetic jolt can be helpful in some cases, as well.
When we limit the discussion of stress to those unnecessary and negative experiences of distress, medical professionals diagnose stress as a surplus of adrenaline in our systems. This chemical diverts oxygen from its normal path in circulation and sends it to muscles that might need the resource if they had to respond. This function of stress might be necessary in an emergency, but as an aspect of everyday life, it can lead to a chain reaction that depletes the functioning of other parts of the body, including the ears.
How does stress cause hearing loss?
The relation between stress and hearing loss is indeed an indirect path. That process that leads the body to divert oxygen to muscles takes away oxygen from other body parts, including the ears. When you add into the equation that stress can cause cardiovascular conditions that also limit the supply of oxygen to the ears, the two processes combine to put the ears in a position of under-nourishment.
The tiny hairlike cells of the inner ear require oxygenated blood to stay in functional condition. When they are deprived of the oxygen they need, they can suffer damage leading to hearing loss or tinnitus. Although the relationship from stress to hearing loss is an indirect one, this is yet another way to think about the risk factors of hearing loss that extend beyond commonly known causes like noise exposure. What can you do to reduce stress in your life? The tactics to lower stress levels varied, but each seeks to reduce a stimulus that would raise your heart rate unnecessarily.
Mindfulness meditation, exercise, and positive social reinforcement are all good ways to help you cope with life’s everyday stressors. By cultivating a mentality to respond calmly to the chaos of modern life, you can promote good health in many other areas of life.
The feeling of calm is a reward in itself, but the indirect effects on the heart, lungs, blood vessels, and even the ears should be an added incentive to get serious about stress reduction. Sometimes you can limit the stressful experiences you encounter, but the best approach to stress-reduction locates the process within your own mind, carving out space for a peaceful response to whatever life throws at you.