How Stress Affects your Health
It is no 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, specifically the relationship between high stress and susceptibility to the rhinovirus, also known as the common cold.
In a study done by Carnegie Mellon University, they found that stress decreases the regulatory processes of the body that help control inflammation, which is often the cause for symptoms connected with specific viruses.
Stress produces a physiological response in your body, triggering a fight-or-flight response that puts your body on alert and releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, increase in energy supplies, and elevated blood pressure. Cortisol increases the glucose levels in the bloodstream and can curb functions that are non-essential 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, reproductive processes, and growth. Prolonged stress can thus greatly decrease the body’s daily functional capacity. This response can be triggered by events such as the death of a loved one, an upcoming deadline, an increased workload, or tension in relationships.
Stress can lead to fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, lack of energy, and the inability to concentrate. It can also accentuate pre-existing conditions like chronic headaches or increase the symptoms of chronic disease. Long-term stress can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, acne, and even mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety.
Sometimes the way people deal with stress has the most negative impact on health. Coping mechanisms such as drug use, overeating, or smoking can all cause additional harm.
So how exactly do you reduce and manage stress?
Well, stress management is going to look different for every person. Stress is a very personal reaction to life’s events and thus will require an individually tailored response.
In general, seek to identify the cause of stress. List your commitments, prioritize them, and then eliminate what is non-essential. Ask yourself, what can I control? What is beyond my control? Find a small task to complete 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.
Recognize your limitations. If you know that your body needs rest, do not be afraid to say no to friends or plans . 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 your stress.
Take care of your body. Sufficient sleep and regular physical activity are essential to stress management. Maintain a consistent sleep pattern and exercise routine. 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, meditation, or tai chi, or stretch and massage your muscles to release tension. Most importantly, find what works best for you. Playing a musical instrument or listening to music may be 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 seek to treat the symptoms of stress, but work on targeting the causes of stress in your life in order to mitigate them. You may find that professional help or counseling is essential to help you learn how to better manage 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.