What is stress?
Stress is a common human response to a perceived danger that happens due to numerous circumstances. In fact, your body is designed to experience and react to stressful situations. Your body releases hormones that help you handle the stress-causing agents and prepare you to evade or confront the perceived danger.
Your response to stressful situations helps your body adapt to new situations. Stress can be helpful, keep you alert, motivated and prepares you to deal with dangers. For example, if you have an important deadline or a project coming up, a stress response helps your body work tirelessly and stay awake longer. But stress can become a liability when stressful situations persist without giving enough time to replenish your body and mind.
Everyone reacts differently to stress. Some typical symptoms of stress include a change in sleeping patterns, change in appetite, headaches, and acne. These symptoms are caused by stress hormones in your body which, help you to deal with dangers or threats. This is also known as the fight or flight condition.
Stress hormones adrenaline raise your blood pressure, increases your heart rate and energy supplies. This increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and energy supplies prepare your body for any emergency situations. Adrenaline hormones may also reduce blood flow to your skin and reduce your stomach functions. Cortisol is another stress hormone that increases release of fat and sugar into your system to boost your energy levels.
Due to the release of stress hormones, you may experience severe headaches, systemic muscle pain, body pain, nausea, and indigestion. You may also undergo respiratory problems, sleeping problems, increased risk of heart attacks, and stroke.
All these changes are your body’s mechanism against stress, once danger or threat has passed, your stress hormone will return to normal. However, if you’re under stress for long periods, these hormones remain in your body, leading to chronic stress. Over time, the high level of these chemicals and the changes they cause can cause irreversible damage to your health.
Chronic stress can cause permanent damage to your physical and mental health. Stress can shoot up your blood sugar and make your diabetes worse. Chronic stress increases blood pressure and causes sleep problems. It can also trigger anxiety, depression, or delusion.
Stress can adversely impact the major systems in your body. Below, we look at its effects:
Stress and brain health
Stress adversely affects the central nervous system that consists of the brain and spinal cord.
Migraine and headache. Stress may be a primary trigger for migraines and headaches in some people. About 70% of people who suffer from migraine headaches say stress is the trigger. The headache caused by stress can severe and last from 4 to 72 hours.
Depression. Many studies found that stress may cause depression. Stress can also make you feel bad about yourself. This can make your symptom of depression intense. Stress-induced depression can be a big trigger for most people thus exacerbating the situation.
Sleep Problems. During stressful situations, the body release hormones that promote attention and arousal that negatively affect the sleep cycle. Some people with chronic stress may develop insomnia which affects their day-to-day life.
Stress and Immunity
Stress may adversely impact your immune system, however, it’s unclear the exact process responsible. Stress causes the immune system to produce an inflammatory or protective response, which is beneficial for fighting against viruses, infections, and toxins. However, if inflammation is persistent and widespread for a longer period, it can cause chronic diseases and severely reduce the effectiveness of the immune system
Stress and digestion
Stress affects digestion since the gut has the largest nerves outside of the brain, any changes in the brain affects digestion directly. You may also experience changes in appetite when stressed. Chronic stress can adversely affect the normal functioning of the gut.
Stress can cause.
- Acid reflux
Stress contributes to, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, ulcers.
Sexual Health and Stress
Stress can adversely affect both male and female sexual health, potentially leading to problems with the sex drive, orgasms, and sustaining an erection.
Stress may reduce sperm production and impact the maturation of sperm. In women, stress during pregnancy or the postpartum period can be potentially dangerous to both the child and women’s health. If one or both partners are stressed then conceiving is also problematic.
Stressed women may experience changes in the menstrual cycle, periods may stop, and premenstrual symptoms can become severe.
Stress and Muscles
Researchers have found that there is a relation between work-related stress and chronic pain. Stress directly impacts your muscle and causes muscles to contract, and can cause contraction which can lead to tension. In fact, more and more people are severely affected by chronic pain conditions due to long-term stress.
Heart Health and Stress
Under acute stress, your cardiovascular system prepares the body for the fight or flight response.
When you experience chronic stress, these responses persist for the long term and can also lead to inflammation. Chronic stress is responsible for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Stress and Diabetes
Research has found that stress reduces insulin sensitivity. Stress causes an increase in the production of hormones epinephrine and cortisol. Cortisol is also responsible for the increased accumulation of abdominal fat. People who are obese are more sensitive to the effects of stress on metabolism thus leading to difficulties in reducing their weight reduction goals.
Some people face breathing problems during a stressful response. Breathing problems such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing can result from a stressful environment. The path between the lungs and nose contracts causing breathing difficulties from stress.
A healthy person facing this situation may not be dangerous, however, it may significantly affect people with asthma, COPD, and chronic bronchitis. Children with asthma in stressful events may face a higher risk of asthma attacks. Researches have found that stress increases the frequency and severity of symptoms by increasing your body’s inflammatory response to allergens and pathogens.
Stress is subjective and not a diagnosable medical condition. Only the person undergoing it can determine can ascertain its severity. Which means there isn’t a specific way to measure stress. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take help from a doctor.
A doctor’s appointment can be reassuring and can help you make a plan to bring your stress under control. Your doctor will ask a series of questions about stress symptoms and the conditions causing it. They will usually want to know about your family history, past trauma, and whether you’re taking any medications or suffering from any ongoing health problems. This will help them plan you right kind of stress management program.
When to seek a doctor about stress?
You should immediately seek professional medical help if you feel overwhelmed by stress. If you are using any drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress you are hurting yourself. Your primary care provider can help you by prescribing appropriate medicine or referring you to a therapist.
It’s natural and normal to be in stressful situations and is sometimes helpful too. But long-term stress can cause be detrimental to health. Try to manage stress by following stress management strategies and programs. But if you feel overwhelmed don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
These recent studies about the effects of stress on health should be encouraging towards managing stress. We now have much more knowledge about effective strategies for reducing stress. These approaches have significant benefits for your physical and mental health leading towards a healthy and fulfilling life. Following are some strategies to manage stress:
Exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It not only enhances hormonal balance and stimulates the production of endorphins that improve mood and decrease stress but also helps improve your sleep. And better sleep means less harm from stress.
People who exercise more also tend to feel less anxious and feel positive about themselves and the situations around them. When your body feels better, your mind often follows. Get relief from stress with these exercises:
- Weight training
- Sports activity
If you can’t make time for a formal exercise program, you can still find ways to do physical activity throughout your day. Try these tips:
- Use the stairs more often
- Park car as far as you can to walk more.
- Clean your house more often.
- Walk after your lunch or dinner.
Go for a walk on the weekend in nature since it will not help your body get good exercise but also relaxes your mind.
Get good sleep
A common side effect of stress is that it may lead to difficulties sleeping. Loss of sleep can further increase stress. If this happens more than three times a week for 3 months or more, you may be suffering from insomnia, a serious health condition.
If you are stressed you need to be more careful about better sleep habits. This includes your daily routine and your bedroom habits.
- Exercise regularly is the best way to get sound sleep
- Get out in the sunlight and nature for a relaxing walk.
- Don’t drink alcohol and caffeine near bedtime
- Follow sleep schedule
- Eat balanced diet
Listen to Music
You often may have noticed that how certain songs can make you feel relaxed and calm? Music can really help you calm down and fight stressful situations. Music therapy is a professional clinical practice backed by numerous research.
Music relaxation techniques reduce stress and pain as well as insomnia symptoms. Listening to soothing music may is effective towards muscle relaxation, reducing anxiety and insomnia. A study found that listening to instrumental music at night improved sleep and decreased depression compared to either reading books or nothing.
When choosing music to relax to at home or work, it’s best to pick instrumentals depending on what you personally like. Lay back, relax, and enjoy the melody and beat of the music.
Since breathing is self-functioning, it plays important role in relaxation. Several studies found that depth and pace of breathing can deeply affect the functioning of the heart and blood pressure. Following breathing techniques with deeper, slower breaths can significantly relieve stress.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing: Sit down, inhale with your nose, count to ten and focus on drawing breath from your abdomen. Exhale slowly, counting to ten. Complete the cycle 10 to 12 times, repeating as often as needed. Research has found that deep, slow breathing can reduce blood pressure and heart rate and reduces stress.
- 4-7-8 Breath: This technique induces sleep and is based on yoga. Place the tip of your tongue on your upper teeth. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound. Close your mouth, and inhale through your nose to a count of four and exhale. Repeat 5 or more times.
Balanced Diet and stress
Eat small meals more often on stressful days this will keep your metabolism ticking and will balance peaks and troughs in energy levels. Don’t skip breakfast, even when you don’t feel hungry or don’t have enough time. Eating breakfast helps regulate metabolism and stabilize your blood sugar level which will be beneficial to reduce stress. Choose fruit or fruit juice and a whole-grain cereal to get all the vitamins and minerals.
Make sure you eat enough fruit and vegetables each day to get Vitamins B and C, and Magnesium:
B Vitamins can help you give energy after a stressful situation. Bananas, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, poultry, fish, etc. have essential B vitamins.
Vitamin C Adrenal gland needs Vitamin C for the production of stress hormones. Citrus fruits like oranges, tomatoes, chili, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables have Vitamin C.
Magnesium helps to relax muscles and reduce anxiety. Eat magnesium-rich foods like nuts, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, oats, brown rice, and beans.
Caffeine is found mostly in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate not good for the body in high quantities. Try to substitute coffee or tea with decaffeinated versions, herbal tea, or green tea. Substituting sugary and caffeinated soft drinks with fruit juice is healthy since it gives necessary vitamins and minerals.
Alcohol, Sugar, Salt, and Nicotine You should reduce your intake of alcohol, sugar, and salt. Consumption of these items strips the body of essential nutrients and undo the work of a healthier diet. Stop smoking! Smoking may seem like instant stress relief it actually increases stress over a long time and is potentially dangerous.
By eating a healthier balanced diet, increasing your intake of stress-busting nutrients, and limiting stress-inducing substances your body has the potential to successfully cope and recover from stress.
Sex and stress
Sex is a great stress-relieving antidote, sex boosts your immune system and offers numerous benefits. It not only involves physical intimacy but also spiritual and emotional bonding between partners, which is therapeutic. Sexual activity increases the production of oxytocin, which is also called the love hormone.
While achieving an orgasm, oxytocin levels in the brain shoot up and are accompanied by the release of endorphins. Oxytocin is responsible for deep emotional connections with your partners. Orgasm release endorphins that rid of the stress hormone cortisol from the system. Orgasm has a pain-relieving effect similar to morphine, thus helping the body’s response to fight against stress and boosting your mood.
How to avoid stress
Stress avoidance is best then managing stress since it involves you to understand how stress affects you and then taking measures to avoid stressful situations. Overall, the idea of prevention is to avoid generating a stress response fewer stress hormones mean better healing. The best ways to prevent stress are by avoiding stress triggers and by using order and routine.
Avoid Stress Triggers
There are three types of stress triggers:·
- Substances that create stress
- Situations that cause stress
- Certain people causing stress
You can reduce stress symptoms by avoiding certain foods and substances that trigger stress or allergic reaction. If you are sensitive to lights, noise or crowds, or experience overload in other ways, avoiding or limiting your exposure to them can help you minimize symptoms.
Some people can be triggered by stress from News, media, and social networking platforms which can be minimized by avoiding exposure. Watching less news, reducing exposure to certain websites and apps.
Some people experience high levels of stress when they interact with people who are negative and demanding. You can minimize talking with those people or ending the relationship will help get over stress. Cutting toxic people or relationships can be beneficial to your health.
Plan and have a schedule
To avoid much stress know your limits and plan in advance, avoid too many activities, give yourself enough time to complete the task. Have a planned daily schedule of activities for rest, exercise, and socializing.
Adjust your standards
Being a perfectionist is a major source of stress that can be easily avoided. Stop setting yourself a demanding goal that needs perfection. Setting reasonable standards and achieving them will considerably reduce stress in long term.
Forgive past mistakes
Accept the fact that everyone makes mistakes and forgiving others and self for mistakes will relieve stress. Let go of anger and resentments caused by others or self and move on. Free yourself from all negative energy of the past and move forward since living in past is best lived in the present and planning for the future.
Avoid comparison and practice gratitude
Many people make unnecessary comparisons that cause stress. They compare themselves with those who have more money, successful career, or are closer to their ideals, and feel themselves to feel inferior instead of getting inspired. You should compare yourself to people who have less than you, or you can feel inspired by those who are better than you. Either way, you can reduce stress and envy.
Cultivating gratitude is one of the best ways to a greater sense of emotional well-being, better life satisfaction, and more happiness in life. People who practice gratitude tend to have stronger relationships and appreciate their loved ones more, thus tend to do more to earn their love. And because those who are happier have good sleep, have a healthy lifestyle to have less stress.
Gratitude can be cultivated, and this can be accomplished by keeping a Gratitude Journal, writing a thank-you note often, and taking a walk with loved ones.
We live in a world dominated by stress. Urbanisation, competition, and widespread modern technology have created a world in which access to information is a necessity. The causes of stress emerge from the many obligations you handle every day to the modern way of negative thinking. Effectively managing stress, helps you reduce stress, help you live happily, improve physical and mental health, and make you more productive. Thus helping you reach the ultimate goal of a balanced life, with enough time for work, relationships, rest, and fun.