Though we may not realize its dangers, if not managed well, the effects of stress can cause lasting damage to our health. In this post we’ll examine the common causes of stress, the ramifications that stress can have on our well-being and provide insight on how to relieve stress.
Each person is affected differently by life’s twists and turns. Here are several common causes of stress:
- Financial strain
- Demanding job or change of career
- Loss (death, departures)
- Family drama
- Loneliness/lack of social interaction
- Re-location/change of residences
- Addiction to drugs or alcohol that hasn’t been treated
- Mental/physical health concerns
- Fear of danger to personal safety
- Environmental concerns (politics, world issues)
- Unpredictable events (natural disasters, job layoffs)
You can recognize stress by a variety of symptoms that include, but are not limited to: sleeplessness, anxiety, upset stomach, hives, racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, low energy, irritability or feelings of hopelessness.
The Health Impacts of Stress
How we react to stress determines the extent of the damage we do to our health as a result of it. Below are common ailments that are caused by prolonged stress.
- Insomnia. Sometimes when we’re stressed, we lie awake at night with worry about whatever is bothering us. This only makes things worse. Lack of sleep can cause a cascade of additional health issues if not treated properly. Our moods can change for the worse; we can experience a lasting fatigue or cognitive impairment that could lead to physical accidents.
- Panic attacks. Often mistaken for heart attacks, panic attacks arrive with nearly identical symptoms, which can include heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath and trembling. Though not as severe as heart attacks, to experience them can be just as frightening.
- High blood pressure. Many times when we’re stressed, our blood pressure elevates to dangerous heights. This can cause serious damage your blood vessels and your organs.
- Stomach issues. Persistent stress can disrupt our digestive system and decrease blood flow and oxygen to the stomach. The result may be an imbalance in gut bacteria, which can cause cramping or inflammation and worsen existing gastrointestinal disorders. We are also at a greater risk of diabetes due to stress on the pancreas.
- Headaches. Many carry their tension at the source of their worry—in their head. Some suffer ‘manageable’ headaches that can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications; others endure more disruptive migraines that can interfere with eyesight, cause nausea and limit mobility.
- Anxiety. It’s normal to be tense in stressful situations; it’s not normal to be perpetually anxious about things out of our control. Stress can manifest into a constant state of worry that impedes our ability to relax.
- Reproductive challenges. Many couples who suffer from stress experience troubles conceiving children, even if their organs are not compromised. Women may endure painful periods, and men could suffer a low sperm count, due to the impacts of stress.
- Skin conditions. Acne, rashes and other unwanted skin problems can result from stress as the chemicals in our body unfavorably react to our tension.
- Weakened immune system. When we’re stressed, we’re at a greater risk for catching the flu and colds, because our immune system is less able to protect us.
Ways to Relieve Stress
Because stress is a fact of life, how we navigate it is crucial to our health. Here are some helpful ways to reduce stress in your life:
- Exercise. Perhaps the most popular way to tackle stress is with a healthy dose of exercise. Walking, jogging, biking, dancing—whatever is enjoyable—will all contribute to reducing stress. The chemicals released during exercise will help stabilize moods and provide uplifting endorphins.
- Meditation. With the advent of popular smartphone apps, it’s easier than ever to access guided meditations to help us chill out. If apps aren’t desirable, there are classes and workshops that can help with meditation tips and techniques.
- Rest. It It may seem silly to suggest rest if one of the challenges of stress we face is insomnia, but the more sleep we get, the better we feel. Our bodies need to re-charge and repair, and that can only occur in our deepest times of slumber.
- Nutrition. Eating poorly is sometimes how we react to stress, but we should be doing just the opposite. Adhering to a healthy diet and limiting our alcohol intake will make us feel better and give us the fuel we need to combat stressors.
- Socialize. Isolation can be unhealthy when we’re stressed. Even introverts need human contact, whether it be sharing a meal with a loved one or enjoying a night out with friends.
- Escape. We all need to get out of our own heads from time to time, and an escape—whether literal or mental—is the perfect way to do that. Travel, if possible, just for a change of scenery. If not, escape into art or a film or a novel. Doing something that takes our mind off things in a pleasurable way will work wonders to relieve stress.
Consult a Professional
Sometimes life gets to be too much for us to handle on our own. If that’s the case for you, it may be time to talk to a doctor. Our Department of Psychology is a great place to start, as they can offer evaluations and tools for stress management. If you fear your physical health has been impacted by stress, seek help from our Cardiology practice. Or for general information, complete our contact form to learn more.