Health Care

Physical Effects of Stress: Manage It to Protect Your Health

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Stress is a part of life. While some is actually beneficial — like the kind that pushes you to meet a deadline, stress that’s frequent or long-lasting can take a real toll on your health. Too much stress negatively impacts your body, mood and emotional well-being. In fact, it can play a role in aggravating, or even causing, countless health problems.

How Stress Affects Your Body

When you experience a stressful situation, your body gets ready for a life-and-death fight by producing a rush of hormones that speed up your heart rate and breathing and get your muscles ready to run or fight. This “fight-or-flight” response is your best friend if you’re running from a bear, but when the stress is from more frequent or long-term stressors, it can be your worst enemy.

Chronically elevated levels of “flight-or-fight” hormones can affect just about every system in your body. Some conditions linked to chronic stress include:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Obesity
  • Stroke

Symptoms of Chronic Stress

Stress can have such a wide-spread effect that it would be impossible to list all the ways it can show up in your body. Some of the most common symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Change in appetite (increase or decrease)
  • Chest pain
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Jaw pain (from clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth)
  • Missed periods for women
  • Muscle stiffness and pain
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Sexual dysfunction; loss of interest in sex
  • Trembling hands or lips
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight loss or gain that is not explained by lifestyle changes

Managing Your Stress Level

Now that you understand just how much stress can impact your health, let’s talk about what you can do to keep that from happening. The good news is that you can take control over your stress and teach your body how to cope when a stressful situation arises. Just remember that you’ll have the most success if you practice these strategies regularly — not just when stress rears its ugly head.

Some ways to manage stress include:

  • Breathing deeply and slowly (into your belly, not your chest)
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Enjoying your hobbies (remember the saying about all work and no play?)
  • Getting regular physical activity and exercise
  • Laughing (it doesn’t matter if it’s at silly videos or with a friend)
  • Prayer or meditation
  • Sleeping seven to eight hours a night
  • Spending time with friends and family

Find Help Coping With Your Stress

If you feel like you’re not able to manage your stress level on your own, please visit our site to find a professional therapist to help you develop strategies for coping with your stress. Your whole health is too important to put off another day.

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