The Effects of Stress on the Body
Anxiety is trending. And that’s not a good thing.
In the U.S., anxiety disorders are now the most common mental illness – affecting about 18% of the population of adults over 18. That’s roughly 40 million adults.
But what does that mean for you and your body?
The fight-or-flight response is a tool to help us survive. It kicks in when our body needs to use all of its energy to escape a dangerous situation (such as running from a bear or to fight off an attacker).
But imagine this: you’re driving to work and thinking about that morning’s meeting. You hit traffic and realize you’re going to be late. As you sit there and watch the clock, you start to get stressed. Your brain sends out the exact same hormones and signals to your body that you’d need to run from a bear. But there’s nowhere to go. No one to run from, no one to fight. Your heart rate quickens. Your knuckles turn white from gripping the steering wheel. Your breaths get shorter. Your digestion slows to a halt.
During times of stress, the hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Once the perceived threat is gone, the hypothalamus should tell the body that all is well. But if the stress continues, the response continues.
Our bodies are made to handle stress in small doses. It helps us survive. But when we experience prolonged or chronic stress, it can cause damage to the body.
Some of the effects of stress on your body:
- Under stress, your heart pumps faster. More oxygen gets pumped into your muscles. This gives you the strength to fight or flee. But it also raises your blood pressure. Over time, increased stress levels can cause high blood pressure and increase your risk for heart attack or stroke.
- Your liver produces extra glucose under stress. This is meant to give you a burst of energy to use to escape a dangerous situation. But with prolonged stress, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases.
- Stress also affects your digestive system. Stress can cause you to experience heartburn. acid reflux, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation.
- Stress causes your muscles to constrict. This can lead to tension headaches from a tight neck and shoulders. It can also cause aches and pain in your body.
- For women, stress can disrupt your menstrual cycle. And in men, it can lead to erectile dysfunction. Those who experience chronic stress or anxiety often experience low sex drive.
- Stress stimulates your immune system. Over time, it can lead to a weakened immune system and leave you more susceptible to colds and flus.
- Increased adrenaline and cortisol in the body can lead to other problems such as weight gain, slowed growth and healing, insomnia, lack of energy, osteoporosis, irritability, brain fog, and memory issues.
So what can you do about stress?
These are some ways that you can manage your stress & improve your overall sense of wellbeing.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is a tried and true method of reducing stress and improving your mood. Schedule workouts for yourself 3-6 days a week. Even a short workout will reduce your stress!
- Relax your muscles. Stress tenses your muscles. Take the time to loosen up. Stretch daily, get a massage, do some gentle yoga, or take a bath. Your body will thank you.
- Deep breathing. Stress tells your body to take shorter breaths. But deep breaths signal to your body that all is well. It calms down your nervous system. Mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation are known to reduce stress, likely because of their focus on deep breathing.
- Eat a balanced diet. Have you ever heard a doctor tell a patient to eat junk food? Eating a balanced diet is not only important for your overall health, but it’s also important to get the right nutrition your body needs to combat the effects of stress. Chronic stress can deplete the body’s levels of magnesium. Magnesium is important for sleep, bone health, mood health, and to combat stress. Stress not only depletes your body of magnesium – but low magnesium also lowers your body’s ability to combat stress. It’s a vicious cycle! Eating a balanced diet packed with plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, beans, nuts, and seeds will ensure that your body has plenty of magnesium.
- Slow down. Give yourself extra time to get where you’re going so you don’t get stressed in traffic.
- Schedule some downtime. You need breaks. Schedule in yoga classes, meditation, time in nature or anything else that will help you to slow down and be in the moment. Your brain needs downtime.
- Enjoy some hobbies. Do something everyday that makes you feel good. Whatever you enjoy doing, give yourself at least ten minutes a day to do that. Whether that’s reading, journaling, creating art, playing music, watching movies, doing a puzzle, or whatever else you enjoy. Taking time for yourself is important!
- Talk it out. Therapy works! Talking to someone about your problems can help you manage your stress. Whether you’re talking to a therapist, a trusted friend or family member, or even a beloved pet. It’s good to feel heard. Positive self talk can also help. Go easy on yourself.
- Eliminate triggers. Not all triggers can be eliminated. Control what you can. Set healthy boundaries with the people in your life who cause you stress. If work is stressful, set boundaries so when you’re off of work you’re not expected to answer every email that comes through in the moment.
Stress is normal – but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless! Stress can keep you from hitting your health and fitness goals if unchecked. If you feel overwhelmed implementing all of the stress management tools suggested, choose one or two to add into your life. The important thing is to stress less.
NeoraFit™ Ambassador Adriana Lee is a Las Vegas born yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer. She is all about self-discovery and empowerment through yoga. She teaches her students how to breathe, how to feel and how to get reacquainted with their bodies. As a teacher, she breaks down big concepts and complicated poses into bite-sized pieces to make them more accessible. Her teaching is based in anatomy and biomechanics. Students leave the class feeling refreshed, connected to their bodies, and empowered — and now she brings her skill and experience exclusively to you.
This is Soo true!! I have always walked on a daily basis, but especially in times of increased stress I find comfort and solace through my daily walks and exercise.