Everyone feels stress from time to time, but many of us are unaware of the fact that many commonly-experienced imbalances in health may actually be our body’s way of responding to physical and mental stress, such as, work, family, finances and to serious life events such as, the death of a loved one can trigger stress.
Recent studies have indicated that the human body’s reaction to stress could be one of the main causes of many life-threatening diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the effects of chronic, prolonged stress on one’s overall health…
People undergoing chronic life stress may find themselves slipping into a depressed mood more and more often. A situational crisis can result in the development of a serious mood disorder. Anxiety, sleep deprivation and poor coping habits such as drug or alcohol use can contribute to feelings of depression.
Major depressive disorder occurs when depression is unrelenting and lasts for an extended period of time (several months). It often includes symptoms of sleep disturbance, appetite and weight changes, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, fatigue, apathy, guilt, difficulty concentrating, difficulty completing activities of daily living or working, and suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
People who are exposed to unremitting stress on a continuous basis may develop anxiety or panic attacks. The release of stress hormones results in body systems being placed in high alert mode. Ready to fight for your life or flee from danger. Your heart and breathing rate increases, as do your energy levels and alertness. In situations of chronic stress your stress response never rests, resulting in exaggerated responses to seemingly minor stressors (anxiety).
Sometimes all it takes is the mere thought of your situation to bring on anxiety or a full-blown panic attack. When anxiety becomes out of control and affects your ability to function on a day-to-day level, it’s time to seek medical help.
3. WEIGHT GAIN OR LOSS/METABOLISM
Stress and weight problems often go hand in hand. That’s because feeling stressed, anxious and depressed can cause “stress eating”, the search for relief in food and that often means “comfort” or unhealthy foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories.
Thus a vicious cycle has begun. Conversely, they may also become so depressed that they stop eating and lose large amounts of weight. Either excessive weight gain or loss can further negatively impact your health.
Additionally, stress can have a detrimental effect on metabolism. Specifically, it can cause our bodies to store more fat, only exacerbating feelings of anxiety. Staying active can help the problem by keeping you occupied, burning calories and restoring confidence.
There are many other effects that stress has on the body, such as, but not limited to... Skin irritation, migraines, tense muscles, low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, missed menstrual cycle, fertility problems, high blood sugar and pressure, etc...
Stress is a part of life, and you can't always avoid it. But you can try to avoid situations that can cause it, and you can control how you respond to it. The first step is knowing your own coping strategies. Try tracking your stress to record stressful events, your response to them, and how you coped.
After you know what is causing your stress, try making some changes in your life that will help you avoid stressful situations. Here are a few ideas:
MANAGE YOUR TIME
Time management is a way to find the time for more of the things you want and need to do. It helps you decide which things are urgent and which can wait. Managing your time can make your life easier, less stressful, and more meaningful.
LOOK AT YOUR LIFESTYLE
The choices you make about the way you live affect your stress level. Your lifestyle may not cause stress on its own, but it can prevent your body from recovering from it.
FIND A BALANCE
Find a balance between your personal, work, and family needs. This isn't easy. Start by looking at how you spend your time. Maybe there are things that you don't need to do at all. Finding a balance can be especially hard during the holidays.
ADOPT HEALTHY HABITS
Eat a healthy diet, limit how much alcohol you drink, and don't smoke. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and so will increase your level of stress rather than reduce it. Alcohol is a depressant when taken in large quantities, but acts as a stimulant in smaller quantities. Therefore using alcohol as a way to alleviate stress is not ultimately helpful.
Below are some helpful tips that will help manage and reduce your stress levels.
Even moderate exercise, such as taking a daily walk, can reduce stress.
GET MORE SLEEP
Rather than relying on medication, your aim should be to maximize your relaxation before going to sleep. Make sure that your bedroom is comfortable and has no reminders of the things that cause you stress. Try taking a warm bath or reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you. You should also aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine.
TALK TO SOMEONE
Just talking to someone about how you feel can be helpful. Talking can work by either distracting you from your stressful thoughts or releasing some of the built-up tension by discussing it.
Stress can cloud your judgment and prevent you from seeing things clearly. Talking things through with a friend, work colleague, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective.
A few minutes of practice per day can help ease anxiety. Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress.
LEARN TO AVOID PROCRASTINATION
Another way to take control of your stress is to stay on top of your priorities and stop procrastinating.
Procrastination can lead you to act reactively, meaning you're scrambling to catch up. This can cause stress, which negatively affects your health and sleep quality.
Get in the habit of making a to-do list that's organized by priority. Give yourself realistic deadlines and work your way down the list.
Work on the things that need to get done today and give yourself chunks of uninterrupted time, as switching between tasks (multi-tasking) can be stressful itself.
Learning to manage stress means building coping skills that allow you to take everyday challenges in stride. It's about keeping problems in perspective instead of ignoring them, and learning what to work on and what to let go of.
A serial entrepreneur and former financial advisor, Jean Titus discovered his purpose and passion through the heartache of losing loved ones far too early. He lives his mantra – “We rise by lifting others” – daily as a life coach and Personal Trainer. Jean brings a simplicity and practicality to his work, helping clients draw on their strengths to realize the one thing money can’t buy – good health and wellness. Follow him on Instagram and his fitness journey!