How Stress Negatively Impacts the Body and What You Can Do About It
Think that your daily stress is just something you have to cope with? It’s a part of living, right? Unfortunately, chronic stress can take a toll on your body as well as your mind. And just because it seems to be a part of daily life doesn’t make it okay.
The saying is true; stress really does kill. And its toxicity can seep into different parts of your body. But you aren’t helpless.
Find out how stress may impact you and what you can do to get some control back in your life.
Acute vs Chronic Stress
All kinds of stress have an impact on your body, but one type is long-term and deteriorating to your body. The other type is short-term, and may be thrilling at times. Do you know the difference?
Stress seems to be the catch-all word for all things that make you tense and anxious in life. But acute stress is relatively short-lived. They are unexpected events and situations in life that trigger your fight or flight response.
Some people even trigger these responses on purpose because it’s thrilling. You know who you are.
Going down that steep decline if you’re a cyclist. Paddling like mad to catch that wave before it crests. Tackling a challenging ski slope.
These are all instances that you may feel acute, but exciting, stress triggering in your body. In short bursts, it’s an exhilarating feeling. And adrenaline junkies all over the world chase that feeling with different activities.
However, sustaining that feeling may be exhausting. And over time it damages the body. This is when it enters chronic stress territory. But of course, there are many other causes of chronic stress.
One of the main indicators of acute stress is that it is treatable and manageable. Chronic stress is another story entirely.
Chronic stress is a miserable daily occurrence. If you don’t see a way out of your stress, you most likely have this type. It may seem like it’s hopeless to try and change things, and it’s these feelings that grind down your overall health.
Stress and Your Body
You may have heard how stress can impact the mind. Over time, it can cause anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. While these are serious problems by themselves, they may also negatively impact your physical body, too.
Why? Stress creates a chain reaction in your body. When you feel stress, your brain signals to the rest of your body. It’s like raising the alarm, telling your body it’s time to fight or flee.
To help you in combat, or run for your life, your body experiences changes like increased heart rate, higher oxygen intake, heightened senses, and an adrenaline rush. Your brain also signals the release of cortisol. This hormone helps to restore all the energy you burn up when your body responds in this way.
While this response may have kept our ancient ancestors alive, the dangers of today are not as tangible. So the cortisol has nowhere to go and builds up over time. And this is where you may run into a heap of physical problems.
The Negative Impact
Studies show that high levels of cortisol build-up coupled with stress can lead to cognitive impairment that may affect the way you interact with others.
Stress kills brain cells and may even reduce your brain size. This shrinkage affects the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory. Along with this shrinkage of one part of the brain, it may increase the size of another part of the brain that may make you more receptive to stress.
What happens after that is a vicious circle where your brain is predisposed to stress and you begin isolating yourself from your support system.
The physical effects don’t stop there, though. Chronic stress also makes you predisposed to serious health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
In addition, some of your body’s other systems stop working efficiently, too. This may include the reproductive, digestive, and excretory structures. You may also be more prone to illness because chronic stress compromises your body’s immune system, and may make existing conditions worse.
Furthermore, people that suffer from toxic stress are no strangers to thoughts and acts of violence and suicide.
What Can You Do
Stress is a part of life, but there are some things you can do to manage it. First, you need to recognize stress warning signs.
They may include:
- Shallow breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Low energy
- Pressure in the chest
- Increased body temperature
- Feeling depressed
- Clammy hands
- Feeling hopeless
- Short temper
- Increased irritability
When you notice one or all of these warning signs rearing their ugly heads, it’s time to take action. Check out some stress management strategies that you can try:
1. Relax a little
Do anything that helps you practice relaxation techniques like yoga, getting a massage, and meditation.
2. Escape into a Hobby
Pick up a hobby to lose yourself in like listening to music or reading a book. Redirect your focus to something else and give yourself a much-needed break.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Chronic stress batters you from the inside out. So take the time to take care of yourself. Live a healthy lifestyle by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.
4. Phone a friend
Fostering healthy friendships can be a lifeline when you feel like you’re drowning. So pick up that phone, meet up or send a quick text. Make sure you keep your social connections open even when you just want to hide under a rock.
5. Laugh a lot
Having a sense of humor may lighten your load. So go ahead and find moments to laugh out loud.
6. Volunteer yourself
Get out of your own headspace. Head out and volunteer in your community. Sure, you may not have time in your stressful life for large projects, but even an hour can give you another perspective on life. And help your fellow man in the process.
7. Call a professional
If you need counseling, don’t be afraid to seek it. There’s no shame in asking for help. And sometimes talking to someone impartial may help more than talking to a loved one.
Can you change the situation or environment that gives you so much stress? Maybe not. But you can control your own response to it.
Finding healthy stress management strategies may help you manage the potential negative effects on your body. And finally, give you some peace of mind in a sea of hopelessness.