What Is Stress Doing to Your Physical Health?
By Rachel Joy
Stress affects every part of your body and health. You may think that something else is to blame for your headache, insomnia, or lack of productivity, but stress could be at the root of the problem. Stress symptoms can be present in your body, thoughts, and behavior. If you’re wondering, “What is stress? What is it doing to my body and mind?”, you’re not alone. April is Stress Awareness Month — what better time to find out how stress affects your physical health and what you can do to manage your stress levels?
Emotional Health: Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
You probably never think of being stressed out as a good thing, but not all stress is equal. Short-term stress can actually inspire and motivate you. For example, think about going on a first date or working on a project for work. Your pulse gets faster, your hormones surge; you may feel stressed, but not necessarily in a bad way. Good stress can focus your energy and even enhance your performance.
The Effects of Stress on Your Physical Health
Stress can affect all of your body’s systems. The effects of stress on the body run deep. Being able to identify stress symptoms can help you manage your stress better. When you feel and see that you need to take a step back, you can learn effective stress-reduction techniques and feel more in control.
When you’re stressed, your body is more susceptible to infection. The stress hormone cortisol lowers the effectiveness of your immune system. Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system when a person turns to coping strategies like drinking alcohol or smoking. A report by the American Psychological Associate shows that long-term stress weakens the immune response.
Stress can impact your gut and digestive system, too. Studies show that stressful life events are associated with worsening symptoms of several digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Stress also increases gut motility and fluid secretion. This is why you might feel the need to go to the bathroom more in times of stress.
When you experience chronic stress, your body is constantly at high alert, which takes a massive toll on your body. Stress can increase your risk for heart disease; studies suggest that chronic stress can increase blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, which are all risk factors for heart disease.
Cognition and Learning
Stress has a big impact on cognition, learning, and memory. If you find that your productivity is at an all-time low during a stressful situation, it’s not in your head. Chronic stress can affect your judgment and memory due to the effect stress has on your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
5 Ways to Reduce Stress
The difficult thing about stress is that it can have so many causes. Lives are complex, and the answers to stressful situations are not always easy. Between work, family, financial uncertainty, and big changes, stress can come from various places. While you can’t always control everything, you can try to find a way to reduce stress that works for you.
1. Make Time for Exercise
Exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. At the same time, it stimulates the production of endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers and mood boosters. Regular exercise also offers emotional benefits, as it can improve self-image and confidence. Any type of exercise is beneficial, even a simple twenty-minute stroll in the park.
2. Follow a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet sets a strong foundation for your body and mind. Try eating more unprocessed, whole foods with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Following a well-balanced diet can also help to stabilize your mood.
3. Get Plenty of Sleep
Stress and anxiety often result in insomnia problems. At the same time, poor sleep can contribute to stress and your ability to manage stress. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time to create a bedtime routine.
4. Speak to Someone
Whether it’s a family member, friend, or psychologist, you don’t need to go through stress and hard times alone. Speak to someone and share how you feel. They may be going through the same thing or be able to offer helpful advice.
5. Try Meditation
Try to incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing. By finding a way to relax your body and mind, you can bring back your focus. Research shows that the benefits of mindfulness come from its ability to dial down your body’s response to stress. Lowering your stress response may reduce the effects of stress on your body.
If you’re unsure where to start, try using apps like Calm or Headspace for short, guided meditation sessions.
What Is Stress Doing to Your Body and Mind?
Sitting in traffic, work commitments, financial worries — there is no shortage of stressors in today’s world. Everyone has their limit, and sometimes it feels like you can’t shift the pressure and tension. By understanding what stress is doing to your body and mind, you can recognize your stress symptoms. Maybe you love to hit the gym in the morning or take a ten-minute mindfulness break during the day. Identify your triggers and develop a stress management approach that works for you.
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