Stress does many damaging things to your body. Recognizing the symptoms can help you stop it in its tracks.
Stress is a common factor of life but left unchecked, it can cause several health issues.
Chronic health conditions such as lupus and heart disease get worse with stress.
Aromatherapy, yoga, and active hobbies can help counteract it.
We all know stress is bad for us. It affects our sleep, causes headaches, creates muscle tension, and interferes with productivity. Its symptoms are there if we pay attention but most people might not be aware of just how detrimental it can be.
On the other hand, short-term stress can be helpful. It serves as a motivator and keeps you striving to do your best. Too much stress, or chronic stress, is where the problems come in.
Chronic stress, or stress that lingers for several days or longer, can wreak havoc on the mind and body. Many factors cause it, from working to raising kids to having a perfectionist mindset, and sometimes we aren’t even aware we’re experiencing it. The symptoms can also mimic other illnesses and can be misleading.
While most of us know when we’re experiencing chronic stress, we might not be aware of all the ways it can manifest. Recognizing these symptoms is the first step to solving the issue.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways stress impacts your health and wellness and what you can do about it.
Muscle and joint pain
Our muscles tense up when we’re anxious and relax when we relax. This constant tensing and flaring can cause pain, spasms, and tightness in the muscles and joints. Stress can also cause flare-ups in illnesses such as arthritis and fibromyalgia and lowers your pain threshold. If you’re feeling sore muscles and tender joints and you haven’t just finished a grueling workout or a long bike ride, it could be a sign of chronic stress.
Cardiac and respiratory issues
Stress increases cortisol hormones which speed up your heart and can cause shortness of breath and quickened breathing. Anxiety can exacerbate existing heart and lung issues such as asthma, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Unrelenting, severe, chronic stress can even lead to a heart attack or stroke.
If you are experiencing chest pains, always play it safe and visit your doctor, even if you think the pain is stress-related.
Hair, skin, and nails
Free radicals are created at a faster rate when you’re under duress. Free radicals are unstable atoms that have a damaging effect on the skin, hair, and nails. They attack the hair shaft where the pigment and nutrients are stored. This leads to graying and hair loss.
Fingernails need protein, magnesium, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals to thrive. Stress inhibits the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients and makes nails more brittle and weaker.
Stress can lead to breakouts, skin dullness, and a weakening of elasticity. It also exacerbates skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Gut health issues
Stress has a huge impact on the digestive system and it’s usually why you get a stomach ache when you’re anxious. Common symptoms of stress-related gut issues are pain, gas, bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Stress can also strongly contribute to IBS and acid reflux.
Your appetite can also suffer. Some people eat more, others less. Constant changes in eating habits lead to gut health problems.
The stress tension triangle
The effects of anxiety are often felt in the head, jaw, neck, and shoulders, the area known as the tension triangle. Symptoms such as tension headaches, knots, tightness in the neck and shoulders, and muscle spasms are common here. In more severe cases, stress can cause the jaw disorder TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction), which causes tenderness and limited movement.
Stress kills the cells that we use to fight the harmful stuff we come in contact with every day like bacteria and viruses. It weakens our body’s immune system and lessens its ability to fight off colds and germs. Lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune conditions get worse when you’re stressed out.
The symptoms of stress are manageable without medications. These strategies are helpful whether you’re experiencing the regular anxieties of life or chronic worries.
Simple ways to alleviate stress include:
Smell receptors send messages to our brain when we smell different aromas. When we smell something pleasing and calming, it signals the area in our brain that controls our emotions, known as the limbic brain, to produce relaxing hormones that are released throughout our body. Certain scents stimulate specific functions in the human body. Aromatherapy essential oils that ease stress and induce calmness include lavender, clary sage, and bergamot. These oils can be applied to the temples, neck, or wrists to soothe our worries and calm our auras.
Many activities can calm and/or energize you! They can distract your mind from its negative patterns, also. Reading, gardening, sewing, and working on cars are all great ways to distract yourself from whatever is stressing you out.
Active hobbies are superior to inactive ones. Inactive hobbies like watching TV and surfing the Internet can make you feel calmer in the moment but don’t sustain peace of mind over time.
Journaling is a great way to get to know yourself, organize your thoughts, and practice mindfulness. Many studies show the rewards of regularly writing out your thoughts such as reduced anxiety, boosted mood, and even increased immunity. Unloading your worries onto paper helps clarify the issues and stimulates new ideas. You can also keep a journal on your computer and type in it but many people find the act of physically writing relieves stress even better. Journaling, however you do it, also helps manage chronic pain and improves memory.
Yoga, Pilates, and Tai chi are all forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine that are particularly helpful for reducing stress. They incorporate deep breathing with slow, controlled movements that help lower heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
Chronic worry and anxiety can do all sorts of crazy things to your body, giving you everything from gray hair to tension headaches but there are simple ways to protect yourself. Check in with yourself regularly – self-care is critical in the fight against stress.
Combat stress with mindfulness moments
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