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How stress can affect recovery after an illness or surgery

Stress is part of life. Losing a job, family strife or even feeling threatened by the neighbor’s dog can set off a natural stress response. When a threat is perceived, a small part of your brain known as the hypothalamus puts your body on alert. A combination of nerve and hormonal signals sends a message to the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. The body is then able to boost its heart rate and energy supply. Cortisol allows an increase of sugar for energy and other substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also suppresses some systems that are not immediately needed in order to focus on functions needed to respond to stress.

These responses are helpful as a short-term solution and once the threat has passed, the body can return to normal. However, if stress continues for a prolonged period of time, these responses don’t turn off and an imbalance is created that can be harmful to your health, especially if you are trying to recover from illness.

Here are some of the ways stress can hamper recovery.

Stress and the immune system

When stress is felt for a long period of time, the body’s natural ability to fight off toxins and other foreign substances is reduced. The body becomes less able to control inflammation, which makes recovery even more challenging. Researchers for the AARP interviewed 276 healthy adults about stress in their lives and then exposed them to a cold virus. Participants who were experiencing high stress levels were more likely to develop a cold while those with less stress were able to fight it off. Other studies have shown that healing times are reduced by high levels of stress due to the suppression of the immune system.

Stress and the digestive system

Stress affects almost every part of the digestive system. Besides causing “butterflies” or indigestion, stress can increase the flow of acid into the stomach and decrease the blood flow and oxygen into the stomach. This can upset the balance of the important bacteria found in the intestines leading to many gastrointestinal issues.

Stress and the heart

Harvard researchers have found that people with chronic stress have a higher level of white blood cells in their blood. While white blood cells fight disease, they also can attach themselves to blood vessel walls leading to heart disease. The increased heart rate brought on by stress can also lead to heart problems.

Stress and sleep

Elevated levels of cortisol brought on by chronic stress can negatively affect sleep patterns. During sleep, the body’s immune system release proteins and antibodies that fight infection and promote healing. So when sleep is reduced, the production of these protective substances is reduced making it harder to recover.

Stress and pain

Stress does not directly cause neck, shoulder and back pain. Spending hours working at desks in front of computer screens can create tears in disks, spinal stenosis, scoliosis and other painful conditions. However, the pain levels experienced by these conditions seem to be greater for people who are under stress. Researchers feel the reason for the increased pain is inflammation brought on by stress that prevents healing of these damaged areas.

Controlling stress during recovery

Since prolonged stress can negatively affect recovery, it is wise to take steps to reduce stress after a major medical event. This is a challenging goal that is not easily accomplished. However, making your healthy recovery a priority is a wise decision. One way to help reduce stress during recovery is to stay in a short-term care facility where a team of professionals is present to monitor health issues, manage pain and carry out the doctor’s orders. On-site therapy led by experienced professionals keeps moving you toward your goal. Everyday tasks like fixing meals and housekeeping are taken care of leaving you to focus on recovery.

You can be sure of receiving all of these stress-reducing services and more by recovering at Glenview Terrace. An attentive nursing staff ensures all of your doctor’s orders are met and can quickly react to any issues. Respiratory issues will be carefully addressed to reduce the chances of developing pneumonia. The staff can also manage pain by administering medications at prescribed times and offering other relief options like massage. Glenview Terrace also provides a healthy diet at every meal filled with all of the protein, vitamins and iron needed for healing.

This specialized care is offered with the strictest and most up-to-date infection-control precautions under the guidance of Illinois Department of Public Health and the CDC. Glenview Terrace also takes every additional precaution possible — including routine facility-wide testing and monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 and frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces with EPA-approved cleaning materials.

Glenview Terrace offers all of these services in an attractive setting, including elegantly appointed rooms with bathrooms featuring walk-in showers. Thoughtful extras for short-term rehabilitation guests include morning coffee and newspaper delivery as well as concierge services. The beautifully landscaped grounds with a spacious patio and tranquil fountain also provide both an elegant and calming environment for a time of recovery.

Plan to focus on getting better and leave the details to Glenview Terrace when you are recovering from a major medical event. For additional information, visit or call 847-729-9090.