We’ve talked about how being consistently late can trigger a significant amount of stress, but how, exactly, does this stressor impact our mind, body and spirit?
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make us feel unbalanced. The stress response is your body’s way of protecting itself. When working properly, it can help you stay focused, energetic and alert. In emergency situations, it can save your life, giving you the extra strength to defend yourself or slam on the brakes to avoid an accident, for example. But at a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts weakening your mental and physical health. If you live in a state of stress regularly, it can start to feel familiar or normal, as will it’s negative effects. For this and many more reasons, it’s important to learn how to identify when your stress levels are too high.
“Our bodies respond to stress by releasing hormones and increasing our breathing and heart rates. Our brains receive more oxygen, giving us an advantage in responding,” Psychiatric Care Navigator Kari Deutscher, MS, from Parkview Behavioral Health said. “A little bit of stress, known as ‘acute stress,’ can be thrilling—it keeps us active and aware. However, chronic stress can negatively affect our overall well being. The body’s stress response is not meant to be constantly engaged, so chronic stress increases the risk of developing physical health problems and impacts mental health.”
Common signs of stress include:
- Headaches and body aches
- Neck, shoulder or lower back pain
- Upset stomach, nausea or diarrhea
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Heightened emotions
- Sense of loneliness or feelings of isolation
- Inability to make decisions
- Persistent feelings of sadness, unhappiness or depression
- Nervous habits (nail biting, pacing)
Effects of Chronic Stress
Too much stress can be debilitating, with long-term exposure potentially leading to serious health conditions. It can increase your blood pressure, speed up the aging process and even rewire your brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Over time, chronic stress can also lead to problems with:
- Muscles. Constant tension caused by stress can lead to neck, shoulder and lower back pain, and it can worsen certain conditions like arthritis.
- Skin. Skin conditions like acne and psoriasis are often made worse by stress.
- Stomach. If you have stomach problems, like gastroesophageal reflux disease or irritable bowel syndrome, stress can make your symptoms worse.
- Immune system. Constant stress can compromise your immune system.
- Lungs. Stress can worsen symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Heart. Stress can lead to increased blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), blood clots and heart diseases like hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to heart attack and heart failure.
Strategies for Coping with Stress
The good news is, you can consciously influence your body’s reaction to stress, particularly when you’re aware of your stress triggers.
7 tips for stress management
- Take a breather. Do you ever notice yourself responding to a frustrating situation with a deep sigh? Deep, mindful breathing can result in a sense of relaxation. Next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, focus your attention on your breath while you take slow, deep inhalations and exhalations. This simple tool can help calm your mind, refresh your perspective and serve as your “reset” button.
- Write it down. Sometimes it’s helpful to make a list of your frustrations – no matter how small. You can type it up, draft an email or write it down on paper. Then, after you’ve looked over your list, take a few deep breaths and toss it. Let go of the negative feeling associated with it.
- Think positive. Rather than incessantly worrying about the same things, break the cycle and train your brain to think in a way that’s positive and uplifting. One way to do this is to envision the results you want – not the results you’re afraid of. Sometimes, the very thought of things working out in your favor can be inspiring.
- Go outside. Stimulate your sense and shift your awareness to something other than the stressor by going for a walk, getting some fresh air and sunlight, and gaining a new perspective.
- Burn off steam. Just 20 minutes of heart-pumping activity can decrease stress hormones and increase endorphins, which are often referred to as the body’s “feel-good chemicals.” Practices like yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi can also help you to relax and find balance.
- Help others. Research shows that volunteering can relieve stress. It can be an uplifting way to change how you feel about your life and positively impact someone else’s. Volunteering can help you find a sense of purpose and build your self-esteem.
- Set an intention for the day. To overcome stress, begin each day with a stated intention like: Today I will…
Even small goals can have a significant impact on your anxiety. But don’t shoot for perfection, which can cause more stress.
For more tools and assistance dealing with stress, call the Parkview Behavioral Health Help Line at (260) 373-7500 or (800) 284-8439 , anytime 24 hours a day. Our dedicated assessment specialists are available to guide you to the appropriate level of care – or resources – for your situation.