Stress: How is it Affecting Your Health?

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Let’s say your day starts like this — You forgot to set your alarm last night, and you oversleep. At 7:30 AM one of your kids tells you that they have a school project that requires your help, and it’s due today! Finally, everyone piles into the car, and it won’t start — dead battery. You find some way to get everyone where they need to go, and in your haste, you spill coffee on yourself; you have an important meeting in one hour. You get to work, and your boss calls you into the office and shuts the door.

Stress can be highly personal; one person’s stressful situation may be an exhilarating adventure for someone else.

Stressful?  You bet!  Can it affect your health?  Absolutely.  Let’s find out how stress affects your body and your health — and how to deal with stress in everyday life.

Stress can be highly personal; one person’s stressful situation may be an exhilarating adventure for someone else.  Keep in mind that some stress is considered to be good for memory and motivation.  One of the things working in our favor when we are confronted with stress is that the human body is designed to experience stress and deal with it.  Stress can be positive, such as getting a job promotion with greater responsibilities.  It can help keep us alert and ready.  The ‘flight or fight’ stress response has evolved over eons to protect us from danger.  When in a flight or fight situation, the brain sends triggers, both chemical and along the nerves, to the adrenal glands, which then churn out hormones which raise blood pressure and blood sugar (not good if you’re diabetic).  This response is handy if you need to outrun a hungry lion, but less so if some jerk cuts you off in traffic.  And it can be harmful to your health if sustained for a long time.  An example of negative stress is when one faces continuous challenges without a break.  Then the person can become overworked, and stress-related tension builds.

Some may say that “it’s all in your head,” but you know that’s not true.  Stress makes your muscles tense, which can make the pain of a headache more severe.  Stress can lead to other physical symptoms, such as upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and sleep problems.  If you have chronic back pain, it could be associated with stress.  An elevated stress level may cause you to store more fat, particularly around the midsection.  You may have stronger cravings for fatty and sugary foods.  You may also be more susceptible to the common cold if you have ongoing stress in your life.  Stress can trigger psoriasis to appear for the first time or make an existing case worse.  And most acne sufferers already suspect that they get flare-ups when they’re under more stress, and it appears that they’re right.  Stress can give you zits.

Stress can also affect your mental state.  Your memory may be affected.  You may feel overwhelmed by your situation.  Anxiety and/or depression may set in, along with irritability or anger.  You might start eating more — or less — for no real reason.  You might feel restless or experience fatigue or a lack of motivation or focus.  Stress may cause you to lose hair.  And if all this isn’t enough, you can thank stress for making you look older.

More than 40% of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and as many as 75% of all visits to a healthcare provider may be stress-related.  Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion per year.

 

So how best to deal with stress?  No real surprises; you’ve probably heard most of these recommendations before.  At the top of the list — and this seems to be a universal solution to a lot of ills and problems — exercise.  Regular physical activity strengthens the musculoskeletal system and exercises muscles that may have become tense from stress.  Exercise also strengthens the cardiovascular system and works to lower blood pressure, both of which may be adversely affected by long-term and/or heavy stress.  It also improves your mental state and fights depression.  You may also reduce stress by doing relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or simply getting a well-deserved massage.  Eat a healthy, balanced diet.  Get enough sleep.  Don’t try to treat your stress with tobacco, excess caffeine and alcohol intake, or illicit drugs; they actually keep the body in a stressful state and can cause more problems.  Instead, go the opposite direction.  Develop and set aside time for hobbies and other enjoyable activities, such as reading or listening to music.  Take time to socialize with family and friends.  And keep a sense of humor.  It can get you through more than you think.

Stress can also affect your mental state.  Your memory may be affected.  You may feel overwhelmed by your situation.

If these things don’t reduce your stress level, then get help.  Consider a professional counselor or therapist.  Also, your healthcare provider may want to check for possible physical conditions, particularly if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or pain radiating into your shoulder or arm.  These could be warning signs of a serious heart problem.

Face it — stress is an unavoidable part of everyday life.  Most of us deal with it pretty well, but sometimes it can get to us.  When that happens, there are lots of ways to reduce stress, and most of them you can do yourself.  But if you begin to feel overwhelmed, perhaps seeking professional help is the best solution.  One other thing — remember to set your alarm and make sure your car will start.

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