Have you ever had an overly stressful day, week, or month where you have felt like you can’t catch a break? Maybe the stress is leaving you feeling burnt out, exhausted, unmotivated, or anxious.
Stress is a part of life, and for most people, it’s nothing more than an inconvenience. But there are times when stress can become overwhelming and takes a toll on our physical and mental health, in all areas of the body. Stress can lead to a number of larger health conditions, and you might not even see the connection until much later on. Below are some ways that stress affects the body, and how you can deal with stress in a healthy way.
- Digestive system
Your digestive system is a central part of your body that is connected to all other systems. Because of this, when you feel stressed or anxious, your digestive system will feel the negative impacts too. The brain-gut connection is a powerful link that can cause everything from tension in the stomach to cramps, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, or stomach ulcers. Stress can also affect your appetite, either causing you to never be hungry or eat much more than usual. Stress eating is a very common phenomenon that can lead to further digestive discomfort.
When we are stressed, our heartbeat and blood pressure often rise. Our body may also release adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline, which can have negative impacts over the long term. Chronic stress means that these cardiovascular indicators are heightened for a long time, which can put stress on your heart and create a greater risk for heart attack, stroke, or hypertension.
- Muscle tension
Have you ever been so stressed that you feel your shoulders creeping up towards your ears? Do you notice a knot in your back that just won’t go away? That is likely due to the muscle tension that is triggered when our bodies are under prolonged stress. Over time, constant muscle tension can contribute to chronic back pain, pinched nerves, or even headaches and migraines.
- Mental health
Chronic stress takes its toll on the body, but also on the mind. If left unchecked, stress can contribute to the development of mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders, including panic attacks. It is important to take care of yourself and work to reduce stress so that your mind does not become overwhelmed and more prone to experiencing mental health struggles.
- Immune system deficiencies
If you find yourself getting sick often, you may want to check in about your stress level. The stress hormones that are released in our body when we experience chronic stress can significantly weaken the immune system, leaving us more susceptible to viruses, bugs, colds, and flus that are circulating. Studies have shown that those suffering from chronic stress are more likely to catch a common cold, and this becomes even truer when your stress prevents you from eating or sleeping properly as well.
- Other symptoms
Stress affects every individual differently, and that is why it can affect a whole range of other systems in the body. From problems with obesity, to lower libido, fertility challenges, chronic fatigue, immune or thyroid disorders, and breathing difficulties, stress wreaks havoc on the body. It isn’t always clear what causes certain symptoms in the body, but if you are noticing something off and you have been feeling overly stressed lately, your body may be trying to tell you to slow down and chill out.
So, how do you stop stress from affecting you in the above ways? There are some simple daily actions that you can take to reduce stress in your life, including taking time for yourself, getting daily exercise, aiming for a good night’s sleep, eating regularly, or working on a new hobby. You should also work with a doctor or therapist to develop a plan for stress and related symptom management, if necessary. Getting the support of your family and friends is another great way to help you manage your stress, as it will make them more aware of how their actions and needs may be placing unnecessary stress on you.
If you’re ready to get help to manage your stress and the effects it is having on your mental health, counselling can no doubt help.