When we consider factors that have a vast impact on health and wellbeing, stress is somewhat of a black box. Though we have all experienced stress, it is difficult to discern exactly what triggers will lead to this heightened state of agitation and fragmented awareness. Although stress can be a catch-all for many different psychological and social factors that lead to negative health outcomes, the health results are clear. Those who have higher levels of stress are unable to return the body to the resting state where it can repair itself. Without that crucial ability to restore the body’s processes in a resting state, damage can gradually occur. Let’s take a look at the bodily mechanism linking stress and hearing loss. Though it might not seem intuitive that a stressful mentality and lifestyle could cause you hearing loss, the intervening factor of cardiovascular health is the key to understanding the relationship.
Stress and Cardiovascular Health
When we are in a high state of stress, our cardiovascular system works in overtime to deliver oxygen and nutrients to our bodies, believing that we are in a state of emergency. Elevated heart rates, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all linked to high stress, and these factors can overwork the cardiovascular system beyond its intended functioning. Some types of temporary and mild stress can be helpful for the body, such as the stress we place on the cardiovascular system during a workout. However, that cardio exercise promotes good health by allowing the body to return to a slowed heart rate where it can repair and strengthen. On the contrary, a persistent state of stress through life can deplete the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the systems that rely on those resources.
Cardiovascular Health and Hearing Loss
The connection between stress and hearing loss is mediated by the toll that stress can take on cardiovascular health. Anything that limits the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the ears can put them at risk of hearing loss. The tiny, hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia are highly sensitive. That sensitivity makes it possible for them to detect differences in frequencies of sound, crucial to the process of hearing language and interpreting the sound of the environment. However, that sensitivity can also pose a risk to hearing health when the stereocilia do not get what they need to thrive. A lack of oxygen can harm these fragile cell clusters, leaving them bent, broken, or otherwise damaged. When the stereocilia are damaged in this way, they do not regenerate. As you can see, stress can have a harmful effect on the cardiovascular system, thereby harming hearing, as well.
Developing a Low-Stress Lifestyle
What can you do to get your stress levels in check? There are a number of healthy lifestyle practices that can help you get the rest you need. If you have a demanding job and family life, you might be concerned about your ability to incorporate a stress-reduction strategy, but many of these practices can be easily incorporated into your life without a major disruption or additional need for time. Taking short breaks from your work life can be highly beneficial for stress levels, and these breaks are even known to help you work more productively during your active hours. Exercise helps increase metabolism and lower the chemical production of stress hormones, and even integrating a lunchtime walk into your routine can promote better cardiovascular health.
Social support and trusting relationships are essential to our ability to relax. Simply calling a friend to talk about your lives can be enough to remind your mind and body that you are cared for and connected. Smiling and laughing are other ways to reduce stress, creating a physiological chain reaction of relief from tension and chemical production that can counterbalance your stress response. If you find that that these practices are difficult to integrate into your life, take them one by one. Rather than stressing yourself out about the additional time requirements of a stress-reduction regimen, think of these actions as moments of pleasurable self-care. When you lower your stress levels, you will feel the results in your body, mind, and even your future hearing ability.