If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed or way too busy for your own good, you already know what stress does to the body, from headaches to muscle tightness, to tight jaw, to the munchies…the list goes on.
It’s important to note that these stress symptoms are merely the signals of the deeper impact that chronic stress can have on every system in your body — from your nervous and circulatory to your digestive and immune system.
If stress is a problem in your life, here are the effects it can have and what you can do to fix it!
What is Stress?
Cleveland Clinic defines stress as the body’s response to a challenge or demand. Stress is normal for all people and can be triggered by a range of events, from daily hassles to major changes like a divorce or job loss.
The stress response includes physical components like elevated heart rate and blood pressure, beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger.
Believe it or not, stress can also come from positive changes in your life, like getting a promotion at work or having a new baby.
What Stress Does to the Body
Basic, daily stress is not always bad for your body and is designed to keep us aware of danger and recognize issues when they arise. However, left unchecked, even basic stressors can quickly turn into long-term problems.
Here are a few key ways chronic stress can impact the body:
Stress Causes Inflammation
“One of the proposed actions of stress is that it triggers inflammation in the body, which is thought to underlie many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, and even pain,” says Alka Gupta, MD, co director of the Integrative Health and Wellbeing program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
It’s not uncommon for people to suffer heart attacks or strokes when they are seriously stressed out. Stress stimulates your adrenal glands to release hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. With fluctuations and elevations in blood pressure, you’re at increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Stress Messes With Your Immune System
A number of studies show that stress lowers immunity, which may be why you’re likely to come down with a cold after a crunch time at school or work.
“Patients with autoimmune disorders often say they get flare-ups during or after stressful events, or tell me that their condition began after a particularly stressful event,” says Michelle Dossett, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a staff physician at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Stress Upsets Your Digestive Tract
The gastrointestinal tract is filled with nerve endings and immune cells, all of which are affected by stress hormones. As a result, stress can cause acid reflux, as well as exacerbate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
Stress Affects Your Fertility and Menstrual Cycle
Research has shown that stress impacts your hormones, which means that it can definitely mess with your fertility. “Extreme amounts of stress can affect hormonal levels that are involved in maintaining a normal menstrual flow and ovulatory cycles,” explains fertility specialist Shahin Ghadir, MD, FACOG.
Stress Hinders Your Respiratory System
Stress can make you breathe harder, which can cause problems for people with asthma or a lung disease, such as emphysema. In addition, stress can lead to hyperventilation (rapid breathing) and panic attacks.
Stress Can Impair Your Metabolism
Cortisol, a hormone created by your adrenal glands located on your kidneys, is released in your body when under stress. This sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, temporarily pausing regular bodily functions and slowing your metabolism. While this hormone is essential to survival, it can become harmful in excess amounts.
6 Ways You Can Respond to Stress
1. Focus on Breathing
Stress influences our breathing and in turn breathing can influence and reduce stress. Sit or lie down in a quiet place, take a deep breath through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth, or your nose if it feels better.
Texas psychiatrist Gregory Scott Brown, MD, suggests the 4-7-8 breathing approach. “Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds. Deep breathing can help you calm down and relax,” he says.
2. Get a Massage
One of the best ways to get grounded and allow our muscles and bodies to relax is with massage. Our experienced massage therapists at Camino Massage can help you select the best massage technique for your present needs and offer a safe and nurturing environment to let go of stress. Receiving a regular massage can make a huge difference in regaining and maintaining our sense of inner strength and balance.
3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
To get better quality sleep, avoid electronic devices for at least one hour before bed. This gives your mind a chance to unwind and escape from the worries the world invites. You can play relaxing music, do some gentle stretching, take a warm bath — anything that helps you let go of the tensions of the day.
Make sure you also provide enough time to actually sleep. It’s recommended to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep and without that amount, your body puts itself under tremendous, regular stress.
4. Get Regular Exercise
Whether it’s walking, running, biking, or hiking around the Colorado Springs area, movement of any kind can boost your endorphins — the chemicals in your brain that make you feel good.
When your body creates more endorphins, you may find it easier to forget your worries and find a lasting sense of well-being. Not to mention, exercise has a positive impact on keeping your heart healthy.
5. Eat and Drink Well
Eating and drinking nutritiously is a good defense against stress. Start by limiting caffeine in coffee, tea, and sodas. Caffeine causes you to feel “wound up,” which can make stressful situations seem more intense. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. When stressed, you might be turning to alcohol for relief more often than you realize. If you drink, limit yourself to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
Try also to not to skip meals or eat on the run. Skipping meals may give you a headache, indigestion, or a tight, tense feeling in your stomach. Use mealtime to relax and reflect on your day. Lastly, avoid eating to relieve stress. Some people turn to food to comfort themselves, which can lead to overeating and guilt.
6. Reduce Triggers of Stress
Your life may be filled with too many demands and too little time. For most folks, these stressors are ones we can actively control.
Try reducing triggers by improving time-management when it’s appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself, and reserving time to take care of yourself. Also, set healthy boundaries with work by not working or responding to emails on your time off.
Setting boundaries also means reducing time with people who are toxic to your well-being. Don’t invite regular interactions where it isn’t necessary.
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While the effects of stress can be scary and downright concerning, the above tips are great starters to ensure you get back on track to healthy living.
Camino Massage is here to serve your rest needs and provide relaxing massage and self-care when you need it most. Contact our team today to schedule an appointment!