How Stress Effects Our Health and How To Manage It
We’ve all experienced stress at one point or another. After all, stress is simply a part of life. And while a healthy amount of stress is nothing to be concerned about, chronic stress is a completely different story.
Let’s say you’re stuck in traffic, and you are late to pick up your kids from school.
This scenario would definitely cause a bit of stress, and your body would respond to this by releasing adrenaline and cortisol – aka the stress hormone. This response is completely normal, and it was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly.
However, if this stress response keeps firing, day after day, it could put your health at serious risk. So how exactly does stress impact your body? What are some simple ways to manage stress?
1. How Stress Impacts Our Health
It should be no surprise that stress has some major effects on our health. After all, stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to everyday life. But as I mentioned above, if you’re stress response keeps firing it can cause serious problems.
Cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream (good if you need energy to actually run away from something life threatening, not so good if you don’t), enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol, however, also curbs functions that the body deems non-essential in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses (ever noticed how you’re more susceptible to sickness when you’re stressed out?), suppresses the digestive system; the reproductive system and growth processes. Cortisol also communicates with regions of your brain that alter your mood, motivation and fear.
Recognizing these symptoms is the first step in learning how to manage your stress and improve your health. Some common side effects of stress include:
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
- Heart disease
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight
- Anxiety and depression
These are just a few of the effects stress has on our bodies. As you can see, stress impacts us on many physiological levels, disrupting our nervous and endocrine system, muscular system, digestive system, and much more!
2. How To Manage Stress
Now that we have a better understanding of how stress affects us, we can learn how to manage it. Don’t worry, you don’t need a spa treatment or a weekend getaway in order to decrease your stress. There are plenty of simple ways to help you decrease your stress and get you back to living your best life!
I know this one may sound a bit cliché, but it’s simple and extremely effective. In fact, a few minutes of meditation a day can help ease anxiety, depression & pain. But how exactly do you meditate? It’s simple. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on your breathing and thinking positive thoughts or you can repeat a simple mantra or affirmation to yourself. it’s normal for distracting thoughts to enter your consciousness, notice them and then let them float by like clouds.
I know exercising is probably the last thing you want to when you’re stressed, but it has many positive health benefits. No, you don’t have to run a marathon or do an intense workout. All forms of exercise, including yoga and walking, can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls, shoulder shrugs and seated folds.
When you start to feel like the world is crumbling around you, it’s time to take a step back and slow down. Take a 5-minute break and focus on your breathing. Take a few moments to focus on your senses. What do you hear? Maybe you hear some birds chirping outside. What do you feel? Perhaps a soft carpet beneath your feet or a cool solid tile. What do you smell? Is dinner cooking in the kitchen or a pot of coffee brewing? When you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, you should feel less tense as you naturally start to appreciate the natural beauty all around you.
Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others, preferably face to face, or at least on the phone. Share what’s going on. You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connections strong.
Most of the time we feel stress or overwhelmed it’s because we’re stretching ourselves too thin. In our fast-paced, world we’re rarely separated from our smartphones or some device. At any time, someone or something could interrupt us from our day and steal our time away from us. If your living life by the seat of your pants and not planning your day for yourself, then you’re opening yourself up for a day of feeling fraught as you try to respond to everyone else’s demands. The simple solution? Do less! Spend a few days tracking your time – there are plenty of apps out there that make this simple to do – and see what’s monopolizing the majority of your time. What would you rather do less of? Who can you delegate some of those tasks to? How can you plan your day better so your precious time is well spent?
3. The Stress Web
Stress effects many different webs of our lives. Each segment of the web, shapes our individual susceptibility and response to stress.
Color in each wedge with how strongly each particular stressor is affecting you right now. The more you color in, the more stress you have in that domain. Use this sheet periodically to identify whether you’re making improvements in removing stress from certain areas of your life and finding more balance.
The Stress Takeaway
“Stress” is something we all experience. It’s a necessary part of our survival and oftentimes, an essential part of keeping us motivated or finding new ways to grow and challenge ourselves. We all have our own unique sweet spot for stress, where just the right amount helps us to perform at an optimal level (also known as eustress). When a certain stressor or disruption happens too often or too intensely though, and/or the stressor is combined with other stressors, we find ourselves tipping over that sweet spot into a realm where our perception and response to that stress is not conducive to our well-being or health.
Finding healthy ways to help manage your stress is crucial when it comes to keeping your mind and body healthy. Consider the areas of your life where you’re experiencing stress with the help of our Stress Web. What areas need work to help bring you back to an optimal level of stress? What can you do to change that? Is there something you can do more of or less of?
These are the types of revelations we help clients uncover with our individualized coaching program. We know that your nutrition is not an individual concept that can be addressed alone. We treat our clients holistically and coach each individual according to their own unique set of circumstances and needs. If you are interested or just want to learn more about our Lifestyle coaching programs, contact us or visit our FAQ for any questions!