A much inseparable part of our life, stress is a physiological phenomenon towards certain life situations the intensity of which varies from person to person. Stress is not just a worrying thought that causes the respiratory and cardiovascular system to work fast. It is also not just a feeling of tight band around your head, fast breathing, irritability, and lack of sleep. You may not have thought on this before, but stress accounts for much more than a headache and a pounding – or sinking – heart.
13 Ways Stress Affects Your Health & Tips to Manage Stress
Where short-term stress can help you cope with different life situations, long-term stress can have potential health consequences such as inflammatory response and low immunity. Read on to find out about the negative health consequences of stress and learn the simple stress management tips that will enable you to lead a better life.
1. Immune system
Stress is essential to the stimulation of immune system. For example, an infection or a wound is a form of stress to your body. When this stress activates the immune system, it generates positive results through antigenic or healing responses. However, stress hormones, when released for an extended period, weaken your immune system. Individuals with chronic and high-stress levels are more likely to encounter flu and other infections. Similarly, these individuals may require more time for recovery from an illness due to poor immunity, i.e., the ability to fight infections.
2. Reproductive system
Stress can be the culprit to those irregular, extended, extra painful, and heavy periods. It aggravates the premenstrual symptoms. Chronic stress may also worsen the symptoms of menopause.
In men, short-term stress causes excessive production of testosterone that may cause arousal, but constant stress results in low sperm production, erectile dysfunction, or even impotence. It increases the risk of reproductive-organ-infections like that of prostate and testes. Moreover, stress is linked to low sexual desire in both genders.
3. Cardiovascular system
One of the first signs of stress a person recognizes is the rapidly beating heart. Stress hormones constrict the blood vessels and raise the blood pressure. Frequent stress can, therefore, increase your blood pressure which in turn increases the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
4. Digestive system
A rush of hormones from stress not only results in a beating heart, but it can also upset your digestive system leading to diarrhea or constipation. Nausea, vomiting, and stomachache are also common with chronic stress.
Individuals with chronic stress are more likely to suffer from heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers. It is not stress that causes these ulcers, but its presence can increase the risk and even aggravate the existing ulcers.
5. Muscular system
Did you ever notice how muscles get tense during stressful situations? But they also tend to relax after that situation is over. Imagine what would happen if the stress never leaves? Let’s say a person is under constant stress. In this case, tensed muscles will lead to a headache, shoulder pain, backache, and muscular pain in other body parts. A person might stop exercising due to these aches and fall victim to OTC painkillers for relief. Whereas, all that is required is better stress management. Keep reading for tips on how to manage stress.
6. Respiratory system
Stress response increases your breathing rate to enable abundant supply of oxygen to the body cells. It can aggravate existing respiratory issues like asthma and emphysema.
7. Central nervous system (CNS) and endocrine system
Two hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – are released in response to stress. These hormones increase the heartbeat and provide abundant blood to those areas that need it the most during emergency situations, such as heart, muscles, brain, and other organs. Once the perceived threat/fear is gone, all systems go back to normal. Chronic stress, however, keeps cortisol levels high, and that affects the normal functioning of several body functions.
8. Increased risk of diabetes
Your body produces excessive blood glucose at times of stress. This gives enough energy to deal with a fight or flight situation. However, if you are constantly stressed, the body fails to keep up with this extra glucose, therefore, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
9. Behavioral change
Stress can lead to certain poor behaviors like smoking, excessive alcohol use, substance abuse, overeating, not eating enough, and social withdrawal.
10. Mental health
Individuals with high-stress levels are more likely to suffer from poor mental health as compared to others. Stress is a risk factor for various mental health disabilities, such as anxiety and depression.
Related article: Improve Your Mental Health With These Psychology Based Suggestions
Chronic headaches, often in a band like position around the head, are frequent with chronic stress. These headaches are known as a tension-type headache.
There is a possible, indirect connection between stress and nosebleeds. Many people experience bleeding of the nose during stressful conditions. This could be linked to high blood pressure resulting from stress.
13. Mood disturbances
Stress affects your mood in the form of restlessness, anger, sadness, pessimism, lack of focus, loss of motivation, anxiety, and irritability.
Tips To Manage Stress
Removing stress from life is impossible. In fact, some form of it is essential for survival. You can, however, learn to manage stress to avoid the unhealthy consequences. By managing stress, you will have better mood, more energy, and a positive outlook on life. It will help you to be more focused and think clearly.
The goal of stress management is to look carefully into your stress triggers and find ways to overcome or avoid those triggers.
1. Relax your muscles
Stress tenses your muscles. Loosen them up with one of the following measures:
- Hot bath
- Good night’s sleep
No matter how much cliché the importance of exercise sounds by now, you cannot deny the fact that exercise has magical powers. It transforms your physical and mental health in surprising ways. Under the category of stress, exercise helps to relax the body and mind. It also improves your mood. But, you need to follow a routine for exercise to pay off.
If you’re able to do 30-minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week, that’s good. A better scenario is to do 2 hours and 30 minutes of exercise like brisk walking at least 3 times a week. Even better is to do 75 minutes of vigorous activity like swimming, jogging, skipping rope, etc.
Set the fitness goals that you are more likely to fulfill, and relieve your stress while working on your fitness.
Related article: 16 Ways To Reach Your Fitness Goals
3. Deep breathing
You must have tried some of the deep breathing techniques. If not, you’d be amazed to find out that how much of the stress a deep breath can carry away. Deep breathing not time-consuming. It’s easy and you can do it anywhere.
Simply follow the steps given below:
- Sit comfortably with your back against the chair and place your hands in the lap.
- Place your feet flat on the floor (You don’t have to remove your shoes.)
- Close your eyes.
- Imagine a peaceful place like a grass field, river, beach, flower field, or another place that brings a feeling of peace to you.
- Take a deep breath. Hold on for 2-3 seconds, and then exhale.
- Repeat this 5-10 times.
You’ll see that each deep breath leaves you with a feeling of calmness.
4. Look what you eat
Nutritional deficiencies have a link with depression and anxiety, whereas a regularly taken balanced diet can ward off infections, improve general health, and help control your mood.
Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins to fulfill your daily nutritional requirements.
5. Avoid triggers
There is no denying of the fact that modern day life is busy. Sometimes, people are working double shifts to make both ends meet. Excessive work burden is one of the reasons behind constant stress and tension.
Find ways to prevent stressful situations in your daily life. Remember the last time you were getting late from work and found jam-packed traffic on the road. You were exploding with rage and tension. Try getting up 15 minutes before your current wake-up timings. This will keep away the stress of getting late from office.
Got a big project to complete? Break it into small milestones and complete one at a time.
Know that big exam is approaching? Start preparing early to avoid the last moment stress.
Hate your job? Try looking for other jobs while surviving the current one.
If you think carefully, you will notice that most of the stress comes from poor time management skills. Make better use of your time and beat procrastination; most of your present stress would stop existing.
6. You deserve a break
I remember how mom always used to tell me to go outside after those long study sessions. When I look into the scientific evidence, it says that mom was right.
Your brain requires rest from long sessions of work. Now, I am not talking about taking long breaks and becoming a procrastination victim. Small 15-30 minute breaks from work can help refresh your mind and help you focus better on the work.
Here’s a list of things you can do in those short breaks.
- Listen to your favorite music
- Try some easy yoga poses
- If you are a spiritual person, try praying
- Spend time in nature (that garden outside your home or a nearby park are good options)
- Watch short stand-up comedy videos
7. Adopt a hobby
At the end of the day, when you count your activities and see your hours filled with work and only work, you feel depressed. The idea that your life is full of work and no other activity in and of itself is stress initiating. You need to have a hobby that makes you feel good, a hobby that when you look back on your day makes you feel better.
Now, you may argue about your busy routine. But, a hobby doesn’t have to snatch long hours from your day. A simple 30-40 minutes of an activity is enough to fulfill the purpose. You can incorporate one of these hobbies into your routine:
- Board games
- Play cards
- Solving puzzles
8. Share your problems
Individuals who share their issues with friends and family are more likely to be relieved of stress than those who tend to bottle things up. If you are the kind of person who likes to keep things to himself, try journaling or self-talk. Just make sure that self-talk is positive because negative talk will only worsen the stress.
Remind yourself of good things. Keep rehearsing in your mind that you can do it. Think of the last time you had piles of work or a big exam and yet you completed it well on time. If you had done it in the past, you could do it again.
Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life. – Andrew J. Bernstein
9. Go easy
Failing at the first attempt is okay. It is not the end of the world if you have made a mistake. And you do not have to get it right every single time. Do yourself a favor and stop overthinking on mistakes that you’ve already made. Keep up your sense of humor. Smile and laugh often. It goes a long way towards keeping you happy and relaxed.
Many situations are outside our control. Stay calm. Do not fret over those. Moreover, avoid being trapped by future worries.
Winston Churchill had something beautiful to say on the subject. He said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
10. Come up with a plan
If you can track your stress to an identifiable cause, there needs to be a plan to eliminate this stress. Write down a list of all the real things you can do to ease that stress factor. Apply those strategies one by one and see which one works best.
Stress has a negative impact on various systems of the body. Knowing how stress affects your health and learning stress management strategies can help you live a happy and healthy life.