How Stress Affects your Health
It is not a secret that stress can negatively impact both your physical and mental health. Several studies have shown the relationship between chronic stress and negative health effects. Specific studies have shown a relationship between high stress and susceptibility to the rhinovirus, more commonly known as the common cold.
In a study done by a research team from Carnegie Mellon University, stress was found to decrease the regulatory processes of the body that help control inflammation. Inflammation is often the cause for symptoms we connect with specific viruses.
Stress produces a physiological response in your body. Stressful events trigger a fight-or-flight response that puts your body on alert and releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This stress response can be triggered by events such as the death of a loved one, an upcoming deadline, an increased workload, or tension in relationships. Adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increases in energy supplies. Cortisol increases the glucose levels in the bloodstream and can curb functions non-essential or detrimental to a fight or flight scenario. Unfortunately, some of these functions are essential in daily life such as regular digestive system functions, immune system response, and growth as well as reproductive processes. Prolonged stress can thus greatly decrease the body’s daily functional capacity.
Stress can lead to fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, lack of energy or focus and the inability to concentrate or it can accentuate already existing problems like chronic headaches or increase the symptoms of chronic disease. Long-term stress can lead to mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, or acne and skin problems.
Sometimes it is the way stress is dealt with that can have the most negative impact on health. Coping mechanisms such as drug use, overeating, or smoking can all have negative impacts on overall health.
So how exactly do you reduce and manage stress?
Well, it is going to look different for every person. Stress is often a very individual and personal reaction to life’s events and thus will require an individual and personally tailored response.
In general, though, seek to identify the cause of stress. List your commitments, prioritize them, and then eliminate what is non-essential. Ask yourself, what can I do something about now? What is beyond my control? Find a small task and do that first. Accomplishing something, no matter how small, can be the triumph you need to improve your outlook. Focus on the solution, rather than the problem.
Know and be able to recognize your limitations. Do not be afraid to say no to friends if you know that your body needs rest. You do not have to say yes to everything.
Build and maintain strong relationships. A strong social support system can help you cope with your stress more effectively. Sometimes talking through a problem with someone you trust can help reduce the stress caused by that problem.
Take care of your body. Sufficient sleep and regular physical activity are essential to stress management. Make sure that both your sleep patterns and exercise routine are consistent. Eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can give your body the fuel it needs to cope physiologically with stress.
Learn how to rest your mind and relax. Take deep breaths throughout your day. Try yoga or other practices like meditation or tai chi. Stretch and massage your muscles to release tension. Most importantly, find what works best for you. You may that find playing a musical instrument or listening to music is the soothing experience you need. Or maybe you just need to sit in the sun and breathe. Take the time to engage in activities or hobbies that you enjoy.
Finally, do not just treat the symptoms of stress, but work on targeting the causes of stress in your life and seek to mitigate them. You may find that professional help or counseling is essential in order to learn how to better manage and deal with your stress.
“How stress affects your health.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 2013. Web.
Schneiderman, Neil, Gail Ironson, and Scott D. Siegel. “Stress and Health: Psychosocial, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants.” Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 1 (2005): 607-628. Web.
Thoits, Peggy A. “Stress and Health: Major Findings and Policy Implications.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 51.1 (2010): S41-S53.
“Stress and your health fact sheet.” Womenshealth.gov. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 July 2012. Web.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2013. Web.
Rea, Shilo. “Press Release: How Stress Influences Disease: Carnegie Mellon Study Reveals Inflammation as the Culprit.” CMU News. Carnegie Mellon University News, 2 April 2012. Web.
American Psychological Association. “Six Myths About Stress.” Psych Central. Psych Central, 30 Oct. 2015. Web.
Tartakovsky, Margarita. “5 Ways to Stress Less.” Psych Central. Psych Central, 2015. Web.