Stress and Your Kidneys

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We all experience stress. It’s part of life. But too much stress can contribute to poor health, increasing our blood pressure and damaging our kidneys. By learning how stress impacts our health and finding ways to manage it, we can keep our kidneys healthier and live a healthier life overall.

What is stress?
Stress is anything that can upset or disturb your equilibrium or balance. Stress can be physiological (infection, injury, disease), or psychological (anxiety, argument, conflict, threats to personal safety or well-being). Living with a chronic illness, such as kidney disease, or learning for the first time that you have a chronic illness can be a significant source of stress.

Psychological stress is something that we contend with every day. It can be a result of positive life events, such as marriage and children, or it can come from more emotionally challenging events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce and personal or financial problems.

Stress is normal, and your physical response to stress, including faster breathing and heart rate, a spike in blood pressure, dilated pupils, tense muscles, is a natural and normal process. The levels of fats and sugars in your blood can also increase. The body’s response to stress is commonly known as “fight or flight.” Although it is a natural process to help us survive immediate dangers, these reactions from too much or constant stress can eventually take their toll on your health.

How can stress impact my health and kidneys?
Not only does your body’s reaction to stress help you with immediate dangers or crises, it can also serve as a positive motivator while handling life’s challenges–when channeled properly. However, when your body is under high levels of stress for sustained periods of time, these physical reactions, if left unchecked, can eventually harm your health. The combined impacts of increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, and higher fats and sugar in your blood can contribute to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease (also known as cardiovascular disease).

Stress and uncontrolled reactions to stress can also lead to kidney damage. As the blood filtering units of your body, your kidneys are prone to problems with blood circulation and blood vessels. High blood pressure and high blood sugar can place an additional strain or burden on your kidneys. People with high blood pressure and diabetes are at a higher risk for kidney disease. People with kidney disease are at higher risk for heart and blood vessel disease. If you already have heart and blood vessel disease and kidney disease, then the body’s reactions to stress can become more and more dangerous. Therefore, whether your goal is to prevent heart and/or kidney disease, or improve your health while living with heart and/or kidney disease, managing stress is an important part of maintaining your overall health.

What can I do to manage my stress?
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to completely get rid of stress, or to never have any physical reactions to stress. However, there are steps you can take to manage stress and help control your body’s response to stress. Some simple ways to reduce stress include:

  • Eat healthier foods
  • Limit salt and caffeine (especially if you have high blood pressure)
  • Limit sugar (especially if you have diabetes), and fats (especially if you are at risk for heart and blood vessel disease)
  • Set aside time to relax
  • Relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, etc.)
  • Prayer
  • Talk to a friend, loved one, spiritual leader, or healthcare professional
  • Write down your problems and think about the best solution for each of them. A list can help you evaluate and prioritize what issues need to be addressed.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations
  • Get enough sleep and maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Maintain a positive attitude and outlook
  • Vacation
  • Regular exercise and more physical activity

This list does not include all of the ways you can manage stress. Improvements in diet and more physical activity are things everyone should attempt. Talk to a healthcare professional to discuss which dietary and lifestyle changes might be best for you. Other methods to manage stress will depend on your personal preferences. You might prefer music, while someone else prefers a relaxation technique or massage. No matter the technique, managing your stress can help you feel better and live a healthier life.