Everyone is exposed to some kind of stress on a daily basis. It is a natural reaction to our environment, and both good and bad experiences cause your body to release hormones into your body, and increase your heart and breathing rates, thereby circulating more oxygen to your brain. This increased oxygen allows you to be more responsive to stressors.
But what happens to people who exist in an almost constant state of stress? Scientists believe that our bodies were not made to properly handle constant high levels of stress. When you experience chronic stress, you begin to feel like you have no control over the situation, and as the stress episode is prolonged, the implications for your health become pretty serious.
Image by Gazette Review
When you experience stress, your central nervous system (CNS) jumps to action, throwing all of its resources into your flight-or-fight response. Adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol are released into your system. If the stressor is continuous, your CNS will not return to normal. This can have negative side effects such as anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia. Some people even eat more or less while in a state of stress.
As mentioned above, stress increases your heart and respiratory rate, thereby increasing the level of oxygen in your system. While good in theory, stress can make it harder to breathe for people who already have respiratory issues. Chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long, increasing your risk of hypertension, stroke, or heart attack.
When your body is in any kind of stress, your muscles tense up to protect your body from damage or injury. Chronic stress keeps your muscles in a constant state of tension, causing aches and pain. This constant tightness can also contort your skeletal system.
Stress can have side effects for the reproductive system as well, including irregular or painful period and erectile dysfunction.
Your body’s reaction to acute stress can be beneficial as it gives you the energy and focus to deal with the immediate issue. In the long run, however, not allowing yourself some time for relaxation can have numerous side effects. Incorporating relaxing activities into your day to day routine can be a great way to ease some of the negative results of long-term stress.
Image by Diva Lounge
In the morning, try waking up early enough to allow yourself 10 minutes of quiet meditation. At some point throughout the day, sneak in a work out, even if it’s just a brisk 20 minute walk before dinner. Keep a journal in which you can record all of your stressors. Sometimes, allowing yourself to work through your own thoughts can help you to understand how or why you feel a particular way about a situation. This can be therapeutic and calming. Read a book for a half hour before bedtime, and use a lavender-infused sleeping mask. When you’re stressed, take a moment to take a couple of deep breaths and allow your system to slow down. Of course getting massage at least monthly is also a proven way to reduce stress and pathologies associated with stress.
In a society where everyone feels like they’re not allowed to chill out, it’s important to remember that you’re not doing anyone any favors if you’re making yourself sick by not allowing yourself to come down from stressors. Remember that you don’t have to be a constant busy-body.
Acute vs. Chronic Stress by Centre for Studies on Human Stress
The Effects of Stress on the Body by Ann Pietrangelo
Understanding Chronic Stress by American Psychological Association
Cover Image by neuralconnections.net