Headaches, Insomnia, Indigestion, Depression, Cardiovascular Disease, High Blood Pressure, Immune Health, Obesity, Irritability, Fatigue
Whether your long-term stress comes from the routine demands of daily pressures, sudden or complex changes, or traumatic stress, the manner in which one responds can have critical consequences in developing severe health problems. The effects of stress on both physical and mental health are a very long list. The wear and tear of prolonged stress affects the natural order of the body, including cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, respiratory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and nervous system. Acute stress is something our bodies are well-equipped to deal with. However, chronic or long- term stress can have some serious consequences that shouldn't be ignored. Science is uncovering many of the benefits of stress management. Practical strategies for reducing stress begin with awareness. In my personal experience, I never realized how anxious I had become until a doctor pointed it out to me. That awakening jumpstarted a significant shift to figure out what could be an effective game plan for me.
Regular, but not excessive exercise
A supportive network
Faith and spiritual consciousness
Cutting down on caffeine
Get rid of the never-ending to-do list
Doing the best I can and not taking everything so seriously
Some of the key points mentioned below are areas where chronic stress plays an influential role:
Mental Health: Anxiety, depression, insomnia, PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), and hyperactivity are heightened by prolonged stress. Living in a chronic state of flight or flight means the body shifts most of its energy because it perceives that you are fighting off a life-threatening situation. That constant adrenaline and cortisol release should be short-lived, but when it is not, powerful interactions with immune health and drawn-out illness can also occur.
Gastrointestinal Health: Prolonged stress is damaging and may exacerbate issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion, and acid reflux. Our gut constantly communicates with our cognitive functions (the brain.) When there is an imbalance of good and harmful bacteria, our mental health pays the price and reacts with an adverse change in mood and decision-making. In the same way, when the body is unstable, the brain communicates with the gut, triggering pain, bloating, and discomfort.
Hormonal Imbalances: A lack of menstruation, or irregular and painful periods, at times are normalized or band-aided with more hormones or long-term pain relief. In turn, there is a snowball effect of adverse symptoms along with autoimmune and reproductive diseases. With men, reproductive health, sexual desire, and immune health are compromised by ongoing stress.
Endocrine Health: Unmanaged stress initiates an avalanche of events, forcing a reaction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the primary driver of endocrine stress responses and the production of stress hormones. This collection of nuclei that connect the brain and endocrine system signals the pituitary gland to produce cortisol in times of stress. Cortisol is beneficial as it provides the energy needed for a stressful event if short-lived, and our bodies recover in a reasonable amount of time. Impaired communication between the immune system and the HPA axis develops over time with extended amounts of stress and has been linked to numerous physical and mental disorders.
Cardiovascular Health: The crucial actions of the heart and blood vessels work in sync to provide nourishment and oxygen to the body's organs. Extended periods of stress accumulate in the heart from the additional pumping of blood and increased blood pressure. This chronic inflammation influences cholesterol, arteries, and the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
While stress is a natural response to challenging events, excessive stress can be harmful. Techniques that inspire relaxation, proper nutrition, movement, and support are essential for maintaining balance and optimal well-being.
As always, if you need additional support, a licensed psychologist may aid in identifying stressors, triggers, and challenges. Discovering actionable practices can assist in improving overall physical and mental well-being.
In good health!