Updated: Apr 29
Life throws up challenges all the time. Some of us are happy, while others get a little stressed and anxious. Stress is very powerful. We all have experienced different forms of stress throughout our lives. We should be experts, but this stress is dealt with differently. So, this article's intent is to educate everyone on stress's physical and mental effects to understand it and deal with it better when confronted with those stressful moments.
So, we all can relate to this situation; we are sitting in traffic, late for an appointment, watching the time tick away. Your brain releases stress hormones! These hormones trigger your body's "fight or flight" response. Your heart races, you rapidly breathe, and your muscles tense to ready your body for action. This response protects your body in case of emergencies; however, if this response occurs daily, it could cause severe risks to your health.
Stress is a very natural reaction to many different experiences. Everyone experiences and handles stress differently. Anything from work or family to serious life events can trigger stress. For short-term stress situations, it can be beneficial by helping us cope. Although, if stress responses do not reset and stay elevated, it can affect your health. Chronic stress can affect your well-being, with symptoms like irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia.
Central nervous and endocrine systems
The central nervous system is responsible for your "fight or flight" response. The hypothalamus initiates your brain's response by communicating to your adrenal glands to discharge adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase your heartbeat, rushing blood rushing to vital organs of the body. When the perceived fear is gone, the central nervous system should return the body to normal; however, if the stress does not disappear, the response will continue causing chronic stress. Chronic stress is also a factor in overeating, drug and alcohol abuse, and social withdrawal.
Cardio and Respiratory Systems
Stress hormones affect every aspect of our respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During a stress response, you breathe faster to distribute oxygen-rich blood to your body quicker. If you have prior breathing issues like asthma or emphysema, stress is going to make it worse. Stress hormones cause your heart to pump faster, constricting your blood vessels and diverting more oxygen to your muscles, so you will have more strength to react. This process also raises blood pressure. As a result, chronic stress will make your heart work too hard, too long. When your blood pressure rises, so does your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
Under stress, the liver will produce extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. If you are under chronic stress, your body cannot break down this excess glucose. Chronic stress can potentially increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The body's increased hormones, heart rate, and rapid breathing can additionally upset your digestive system causing heartburn or acid reflux. Stress also affects how food moves through your body, leading to nausea, vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea, or constipation.
During stressful moments, muscles tense up to protect the body from injury. Once your muscles release, they will relax; however, if constantly under stress, your muscles never get a chance to relax. Over time, tense muscles cause back pain, headaches, and body aches, which can cause secondary unhealthy issues, cycle-stopping exercise, and turning to pain medication for relief.
Sexuality and reproductive system
Stress is highly draining both physically and mentally. Short-term stress may cause men to increase the male hormone testosterone, although this effect is not long-lasting; if stressed for extended periods, a man's testosterone levels can drop. This can interfere with sperm production, causing erectile dysfunction or even impotence.
Stress rouses the immune system. This stimulus helps in avoiding infections and healing wounds. But excessive stress hormones can deteriorate your immune system and reduce your body's ability to fight foreign invaders. People experiencing chronic stress become more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu, the common cold, and other infections. Stress can drastically increase recovery time from a disease or injury.
Managing Your Stress Levels
We have recognized that chronic stress is awful for us, but what is more important is how to manage it properly realistically.
Reorganize and refocus. When stress increases, we focus on an event or situation that could or has gone wrong. Instead of focusing on the negative sides of these stressful events, fade back and refocus. Train your mind to think of things that can go positively. Each situation is only as stressful as our mind perceives it. By reorganizing our thoughts, we can focus on what we can control. This helps us to be less likely to become stressed.
Assign reasonable goals. It is common to take on more than you can handle. We think we can do it all. Ultimately, everyone has limitations. Assess what amount is manageable for you and recognize when you feel overwhelmed. It is OK to say "no." If you think you cannot take on additional responsibilities, just say so! This helps to eliminate unnecessary stress and allows some time to relax!
Make and create time for yourself. Create and enjoy at least one relaxing activity every day. This means making time and listening to music, reading, or sitting in a quiet room. These 20 to 30 minutes can help lower stress levels, focus, and think clearly.
Get some perspective. Easier said than done! Especially when something negative has happened. However, a more critical question is: is this truly worth my attention? Try to focus on the positives and move on. You need to focus your time on things that are important to you.
Exercise. Research has proven the benefits of managing stress with exercise. Try working out 30 to 60 minutes daily by performing activities like weight training, yoga, Pilates, cardio, etc. If this amount of time is too unrealistic, try these other options: (1) Park your car farther away in the parking lot to initiate longer walks, (2) Walk the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or (3) Bring in groceries into the house by carrying one bag at a time.
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