Have you ever experienced sweaty hands before meeting on a first date?
Or felt anxious about performing well in a job interview?
Stress is a normal part of being human. It is a powerful force on our body affecting it both positively and negatively.
There are two kinds of stress:
Let’s take a look at how stress affects our bodies and what we can do to keep our stress levels low and our lifestyle and overall health high.
How Stress Affects Our Health
Stress is also referred to as the "fight or flight response".
When you’re placed into a stressful situation, your body responds automatically. Your brain releases the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, automatically into your bloodstream.
This causes numerous side effects:
This automatic response is completely normal.
It's how our ancestors survived. However, today we aren’t likely to face the same threats as our ancestors. Instead, the stresses of daily life, paying bills, meeting deadlines, and juggling childcare, are what elicit the fight or flight response today.
As a result, stress may be constantly stuck in the “on” position, which can have serious consequences for our health.
Small, short-lived stress can affect your digestive system by giving you nausea before a presentation or a headache while arguing with your spouse. However, even these short-lived bouts of stress can still have a lasting effect on your body.
Additionally, long-term activation of the stress response system can disrupt all of your body’s functioning systems. Moreover, it can leave you fatigued, unable to concentrate, and irritable for no good reason.
Repeated stress can inflame the circulatory system and affect cholesterol levels, possibly leading to a heart attack.
The longer the stress lasts, the worse it is for both your mind and body functioning.
This is called chronic stress.
Chronic stress puts your body at risk for:
Chronic stress can put you at risk mentally for:
Since chronic stress has such adverse effects on the mind and body, it's important to reduce your stress levels. Not only will it make you feel better right now, but may also protect your health long-term.
5 Ways to Manage Stress
Fortunately, it is possible to relieve chronic stress and to keep yourself from activating the sympathetic nervous system when you don’t need it.
1. Identify What’s Causing the Stress.
Keep a journal with you to help you monitor what causes you stress throughout the day. When you engage with the cause of your stress, write down exactly what happened, your thoughts, and your overall mood.
Once you have identified the cause, you will be able to develop a plan to address it. This means setting realistic expectations for yourself and asking for help when you need it.
2. Create a Support System.
Reach out to a close friend or family member that you have a strong relationship with and let them know what’s going on.
Share your burden with them and welcome any guidance and support they give. They may also be experiencing the same challenges as you and be able to provide useful ideas and perspectives.
No one needs to face their struggles alone.
Virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. Being active boosts your endorphins and provides a distraction from the stresses of daily life.
Moreover, it improves your mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, help you relax, and lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety.
Exercise can also reduce stress by providing your body with relief while imitating its effects. As a result, your body and its systems become more accustomed to working together.
Furthermore, exercising can help protect your body from the harmful effects of stress, including those that affect the cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems.
Lastly, exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression, and anxiety.
4. Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
A healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet can help in numerous ways:
When you're too busy to cook when you get home, try meal prepping to ensure you're eating nourishing and healthy meals that support both your mind and body.
5. Get Between 7 and 8 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Individuals who suffer from chronic stress often struggle with a lack of quality sleep.
Here are some important steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the right amount of sleep:
Stress is an expected and normal part of being human, and it can even be beneficial in small amounts. A chronic state of stress, on the other hand, can be detrimental to your health.
You can relieve your mental and physical symptoms of stress by learning to manage it. A stress-management strategy can help you manage stress in a way that is effective and reduces its long-term harmful effects.
Interested in learning more?
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Tina Musselman, MA, LPC, RD, CLT