When you experience stress, your body releases two hormones: adrenaline, which prepares the muscles for exertion and cortisol, which regulates bodily functions. This can cause:
- Blood pressure to increase
- Heart rate to increase
- Digestive system to slow down (or stop)
- Blood to clot more quickly
- Immune system to dysfunction by affecting white blood cell properties
What are the effects of stress on the body?
Unrelieved stress is a known risk factor for many bodily systems:
- Digestive system: Stress can cause cramps, stomachache, and diarrhea (or constipation) because of abnormal colon function (irritable bowel syndrome).
- Obesity: Stress can sometimes affect your eating habits and appetite, resulting in weight gain (being overweight or obese increases your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease).
- Immune system: Stress can eventually weaken your immune system as you age, leading to chronic infections.
- Nervous system: Stress causes anxiety, sleep loss, and a lack of interest in physical activity and can impair memory and decision-making.
- Cardiovascular system: Increased blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and heart rate may all be risk factors for heart disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke.
What are signs that you’re stressed out?
Short-term stress can make you feel anxious, nervous, distracted, and worried. If your stress level increases or persists for an extended period, you may experience the following physical or emotional effects:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Fast heartbeat
- Dizziness, shakiness
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Erectile dysfunction (impotence)
- Loss of libido (sex drive)
Minor symptoms can be alleviated through lifestyle changes. If your symptoms are severe, you may require medical assistance to determine the source of your stress and best way to manage it.
7 ways to manage stress
There is no quick fix for stress, and no single method will work for everyone. However, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce stress when it occurs:
- Exercise: Walking, yoga, swimming, etc. reduces stress because they help your brain release endorphins that can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.
- Diet: Eat a healthy whole-food diet rich in dark greens and chlorophyll-containing foods. Make sure you incorporate a variety of healthy foods and fresh fruits and drink plenty of water. Because chronic stress can deplete your body of essential B vitamins, magnesium, and calcium, obtain these nutrients through diet or supplementation. Excessive caffeine and sugar consumption should be avoided as these stimulants can contribute to stress.
- Sleep: Stress can physically exhaust your body, and you'll feel the effects of stress even more if you don't get enough sleep.
- Positive thinking: Work on reducing stress by learning to adjust your thinking patterns. Knowing when to let something go can help you avoid being upset over minor issues or things you can’t control.
- Breathing exercises: Controlling your breathing to counteract the stress response activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which can help you relax. The goal of deep breathing is to focus your attention on your breathing, slowing it down and making it deeper. Mindfulness and yoga classes frequently include deep breathing exercises.
- Time with loved ones: Positive physical touch with loved ones, whether through hugging or cuddling, increases the release of oxytocin while decreasing cortisol levels. As a result, blood pressure, pulse rate, tension, and anxiety are reduced.
- Meditation: Meditation can help you develop a healing relaxation response. Brain scans of people who regularly meditate show reduced activity in pain-related regions of the brain and increased activity in emotion-regulation regions. Many people have also reported that meditation helps reduce the negative effects of stress.
When to seek professional help
Monitoring your thoughts and emotions is only half the battle. And while you can try to reduce stress by adopting a healthy lifestyle and dietary changes, sometimes you may need extra help.
A mental health professional can assist you in dealing with stress by tailoring strategies to your unique stressors and personality. It’s important to act quickly, since the sooner you seek help the more likely you are to protect your health and quality of life.
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Stress effects on the body: https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
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