How Stress Affects Your Body
Research indicates that what people instinctively feel about the negative effects of stress is real. Constantly living in a state of high stress can have significant effects on both minds and bodies, and can lead to serious diseases.
Here are some signs that are telling you to find new ways to deal with your stress levels or pay the physical consequences:
One of the first symptoms people notice when living under constant stress is a problem falling or staying asleep. Experts note that stress causes a state of hyper-arousal, which can make falling into a natural sleep difficult. Stress caused by specific circumstances, called “situational stress,” usually is short-lived, and the individual returns to normal sleep patterns.
However, when the stress continues on a long-term basis, severe insomnia can result. Many times, the individual may feel fatigued enough to fall asleep, but awakens during the night and has a difficult time getting back to sleep. Dealing with the stress directly can help to restore normal sleep patterns, instead of relying on sleep aids that produce short-term relief.
Poor diet is often a sign of a heightened state of stress that is threatening to take over your life. The act of consuming food makes people feel better by releasing chemicals into the brain and bloodstream, and this reaction can cause individuals to rely on food to provide the positive feelings that a stressful life fails to deliver.
This emotional compensation can lead to a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other disorders. Similarly, stress levels can be so high that it can “turn off” normal hunger signals in the brain. Individuals may forget to eat or feel too tense to feel like eating. This habit can lead to anemia, vitamin deficiencies and general poor health. These behaviors signal a need for serious stress management to prevent physical problems from poor diet.
Constant headaches are another sign that your stress level is affecting your ability to function in your daily tasks. Tension headaches occur when the muscles of the face, head, shoulders and neck remain in an almost-constant state of contraction.
Doing exercise, getting a massage, bathing in warm water and practicing meditative techniques can help to relax these muscles and relieve the pain. Dancing, working on hobbies, playing sports and listening to music can also help. Of course, getting at the underlying cause of the stress is critical to preventing the return of the headaches.
If you suffer from back pain, you may already know how stress can make your symptoms worse. Experts believe that muscle tension caused by stress may be linked to chronic back pain. They also believe psychological factors may come into play, with the person being more cautious with their movements, and creating even more strain on adjacent muscles.
Your doctor may have a number of therapies to deal with back pain, but he or she may also recommend finding ways to deal with stress, such as learning to do yoga, tai chi or meditation. These activities can help to reduce your discomfort and your reliance on pain medications.
Lack of Exercise
Stress can keep individuals in a constant state of activity to keep up with the demands of the situation. However, this hyperactivity can prevent you from getting the stress release you need to maintain health and mental well-being. When you perceive that you are under stress, make sure you schedule regular exercise.
Exercise can help to burn off stress and allows you to achieve better blood circulation for both mind and body, which helps you to deal with stress better. Exercise is known to increase muscle strength, improve joint function, provide better cardiovascular health and aid in weight management.
Although some stress can help to keep people alert, focused and motivated, too much stress can eventually lead to depression. Even good stress can lead to biochemical changes that can trigger a bout of depression. Scientists know that stress causes elevated hormone levels, such a cortisol, in the body. This hormone can reduce the amount of “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.
The result can be depression that can sap energy and lead to a dark, negative state of mind. When you are under stress, monitor your mood or listen to those around you for clues about your mood and behavior. If necessary, talk to your doctor about doing a depression screening. You may need medications or counseling while you deal with your stress in other ways.