Stress can have a serious impact on your overall wellbeing. It can negate your ability to sleep, focus, fight off illness, and even maintain a healthy diet and exercise schedule. While you cannot always control the external factors that cause increased levels of stress, there are ways to reduce the impact that stress places on your mind and body. By reducing the amount of stress that you feel on a recurring basis, you can improve your overall health, wellness, and happiness.
The body’s response to stress
When you experience stress, your brain undergoes a change in the rate of certain naturally occurring chemicals, including the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These chemicals in turn increase the production of such hormones as adrenaline. The release of these “fight-or-flight” hormones causes such physical changes in your body as a speeding heart rate, higher blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. If not managed, over time these increased rates of hormones and chemicals can lead to the development of such physical conditions as stomach ulcers, stroke, asthma, and heart disease. In addition, the tensing of muscles that results from continued stress can trigger tension headaches, migraines, and other musculoskeletal conditions. Many health care professionals even believe that chronic stress can increase rates of cancer, or heart attack.
Stress can also wreak havoc on your digestive system, as it interferes with the body’s ability to absorb necessary nutrients, and influences how quickly food moves through the body. As a result, the body experiences triggers to either eat more, or less than normal, which can result in such digestive issues as nausea, pain, vomiting, heartburn, constipation, acid reflux or diarrhea, in addition to unnecessary weight loss or gain.
The mind’s response to stress
Stress not only affects your body, it can hurt your mental and emotional wellbeing. Stress can cause such emotional disorders as depression, anxiety, phobias, and panic attacks. Chronic emotional stress can also decrease your ability to focus, make decisions, and remember tasks and facts. In addition, when stressed your emotions can fluctuate wildly, with periods of stress causing us to feel irritable, frustrated, angry, or insecure. Such extreme moods can impact relationships with friends and family, which may be the most emotionally destructive side effect of stress.
While the impact of chronic stress on your day-to-day life can be severe, you do not have to resign to suffer, especially if you feel that your stress triggers are out of your control. There are many ways to reduce the levels of stress chemicals that your body produces when times get tough. To properly manage your stress, practice these techniques:
- Meditate. Meditation encourages the relaxation of the mind and can reduce stress and tension.
- Exercise regularly. It may feel impossible to commit to a regular exercise routine if your stress is caused by a hectic schedule, but committing to even twenty minutes of mild to moderate exercise four times a week can help counteract the side effects of stress by releasing positive stress-reducing endorphins and improving sleep. If you are looking to ease into a new exercise routine, consider beginning with a walking schedule.
- Practice yoga. Like meditation, yoga can relax both the mind and body, helping to mitigate the physical and emotional symptoms of stress.
- Eat healthfully. Along with regular activity, eating a diet complete with healthy whole foods can reduce the side effects of stress. During difficult times, your body needs vitamin B, magnesium, and calcium. Talk to your doctor about supplementing your diet with vitamins if necessary.
- Avoid caffeine and sugar. For those who crave chocolate during times of stress, this infamous comfort food can cause more harm than good. Caffeine and sugar are stimulants that can contribute to stress and depression.
- Increase quality sleep hours. Getting enough sleep is essential to reducing stress. Since stress can physically drain the body, not getting sufficient hours of sleep can exacerbate stress symptoms.
By implementing proper stress-reducing techniques and committing to a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep, you can protect yourself from the side effects of stress and ensure that life’s pressures don’t drain your emotional or physical wellbeing.