The effects of stress on the body
Have you ever considered what stress may do to your body? We all know that stress is not pleasant and let’s be honest, nobody wants to experience any in their life. Unfortunately the truth is at some point in life stress will appear. Learning how to manage it will be the difference of a healthy individual and one who suffers from chronic tension. It is very common for people to realise that stress causes tension, usually in the neck or shoulders but what about other symptoms? It can lead to flare-ups of symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia and other conditions. That’s because stress lowers your threshold for pain. Stress also causes the body to produce cortisol, a hormone which can causes heart problems. Too much of this hormone cortisol may make heart and lung conditions worse. These include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and asthma. If you have pain or tightness in your chest or heart palpitations, see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out a serious condition.
Stress can suppress the immune system
While stress may not be the causes of these symptoms, it can negatively affect them and cause them to get worse. If you have a skin condition such as eczema, rosacea or psoriasis, stress can make it worse. It also can lead to hives and itchiness, excessive sweating and even hair loss. As previously stated, the most common symptom is tension. Stress can trigger tension headaches, tightness in the neck and jaw, and knots and spasms in your neck and shoulders. It also may contribute to TMJ, a jaw disorder. The immune system cannot function at its optimal level while the body undergoes stress. You need a strong immune system to fight disease, but stress weakens your body’s defenses. It makes you more likely to catch colds or the flu, for example. It also may make autoimmune conditions such as lupus and inflammatory bowel disease worse. Stress can also affect you mentally. Symptoms of depression can arise and reduce your enthusiasm for activities you usually enjoy — from everyday hobbies to spending time with loved ones. People also tend to eat poorly and exercise less when stressed, which only makes symptoms stronger.
5 Ways to manage stress
Take a break from the stressor
It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby or a growing credit card bill. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed. It’s important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even just 20-minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.
If you take only one stress-reducing strategy from this list, let it be this: make exercise a regular habit. Researchers have found that exercise is just as effective as antidepressants in treating clinical depression and increases the levels of endocannabinoid molecules in our blood, the same endocannabinoids that are responsible for the calming pleasure produced by the consumption of marijuana.
Exercise not only reduces stress, it may also help prevent it as well; preliminary studies are beginning to show that the small amount of physical and mental stress you experience when you exercise acts sort of like an inoculation to high-stress events later, creating brain cells that are better able to deal with anxiety, or in other words, a more stress-resistant brain.
Try a deep breathing exercise
Lie or sit in a comfortable position with your muscles relaxed and take a few slow breaths. Focus on breathing deeply, expanding your abdomen rather than your upper chest. Work toward breathing in to a slow count to five: 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5. Exhale slowly. Practice this technique for 5 to 10 minutes daily or at least a few times a week so it will be easier to use when you feel stressed. If it’s hard to practice this on your own, try one of the recorded breathing exercises on the self-help page or search for other podcasts or videos that appeal to you.
Use progressive muscle relaxation
(one of my favorites) Stress can make your body feel tense. Using this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes regularly can help reduce and release physical tension. Sit or lie quietly and focus on tensing and then releasing all of the muscles in your body, one region at a time. Breathe slowly and deeply while you do the exercise. Begin with the muscles in your feet, tensing and releasing them as you breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Then tense and release your calves, then thighs. Slowly work your way up the body, tensing and relaxing all of the major muscle groups until your whole body feels at ease. If it’s hard to practice this on your own, try one of the recorded exercises on the self-help page or search for other podcasts or videos that appeal to you.
Get a Massage
Though massage used to be thought of as an indulgent luxury, it is now recognized as a powerful therapeutic tool. In addition to decreasing anxiety and tension and alleviating stress naturally, massage eases pain, relieves aching joints and muscles, improves range of motion, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, facilitates recovery from injuries, and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Some insurance plans even cover prescribed massage therapy—it’s that effective! Find out which massage is right for you here!