Everyone experiences stress regardless of age, sex, race or religion. It happens every day and manifests itself in various forms. According to the Global Health Organization of Stress, 80% of people experience stress at work, and it’s a major health concern for a lot of high school students.
What is Stress?
Stress is how the brain and body react to demand or challenge in our daily lives such as a test coming up, a promotion at work, bad news about a family member, etc. The brain and body may react to these challenges physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Keep in mind that not forms of stress are bad. During dangerous situations, stress signals can activate your body’s fight or flight responses and tell you whether you should flee to safety or face the incoming danger. In these situations, your brain goes full survival mode, your pulse rises, your breathing gets faster, muscles begin to tense, and your brain uses more oxygen to increase activity. On the other hand, there is chronic stress. Chronic stress puts pressure on your body and mind over a prolonged period.
Chronic stress will not only affect your performance at school or work but also will affect your physical health and mental health. That said, here are the 5 ways that stress affects your body and mind:
1. Stress Can Increase the Risk of Mental Illnesses
Chronic stress can be caused by numerous life events such as monetary or family problems. This type of stress can negatively impact your mental health. Worrying about your problems every day can wear down your body and mind, making you tired all the time. “You may skip meals to save money, decline invites from friends because you are too exhausted, etc. This may make you feel worse, and if not managed properly, can lead to mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety,” says Dr.Mark S, anxiety disorder expert at Doctorspring, a telehealth startup.
2. Stress Can Negatively Affect Your Immune System
Stress can be good for your immune system in the immediate situation as it can help you heal wounds faster and avoid dangerous infections. However, chronic overtime stress can be bad for your immune system, weakening it and reducing the body’s ability to respond to invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Due to this, a lot of people who are suffering from chronic stress also tend to catch the flu more often than others.
3. Stress Can Negatively Affect Your Physical Health
When stressed, your muscles tense up to protect your body and minimize injuries; however, they will release the tension when you’re in a relaxed state. Your muscles may not have a chance to relax when you’re under constant stress. This can cause headaches, migraines, and body aches such as shoulder and back pains. Here are some symptoms of stress affecting your body:
- Abnormally Fast Heart Rate – Stress hormones make your heart pump faster to quickly deliver blood to your vital organs.
- High Blood Pressure – Stress hormones can narrow your blood vessels which can raise your blood pressure.
- Stomach Ache – Stress can negatively affect your digestive system too, leading to nausea, stomach aches, diarrhea, and other stomach problems.
- Insomnia – Stress will disrupt your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep which can lead to insomnia.
- Rapid Breathing – When experiencing stress, the muscles that help you breathe properly can tense up, leading to shortness of breath.
- Headaches – Stress can trigger and intensify headaches and migraines.
- High Blood Sugar – When stressed, your liver will produce extra sugar (glucose) than normal into your bloodstream. If this keeps on for a long time, it can increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
- Heartburn – Stress can increase the production of stomach acid which can lead to heartburn or worse.
4. Stress Can Affect Your Sexual Drive and Reproductive System
“You can lose your desires when experiencing constant stress. Short-term stress can increase a man’s testosterone production, but this effect won’t last long. Over time, constant stress can lower a man’s testosterone levels and disrupts sperm production which can further result in erectile dysfunction or even impotence. Constant stress can also increase the risks of prostate and testis infections,” says Brad Dixon, a sexual health expert at Sexedlibrary.
For women, chronic stress can negatively affect menstrual cycles. It can cause irregular and painful periods. It can also increase the symptoms of menopause.
5. Stress Can Affect Your Behavior
Chronic stress can negatively affect how you behave. Once stressed, you may start overeating or undereating, thus affecting your overall health. You may start relying on substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs to relax. Over time, this can lead to addiction and substance abuse disorders. You may start withdrawing from social interactions and neglecting your responsibilities.
What Can You Do to Manage Stress?
We’ve outlined what stress is, its symptoms, and how it affects our body and mind. But what can we do to manage it? Here are some ways you can manage your daily stress:
- Exercise – Exercising can help our body stay fit and in top condition to better fight the physical symptoms of stress.
- Eating Healthy – Eating a well-balanced meal 3 times a day can also help our body manage our stress levels.
- Seeking Out Trusted Social Support – Spend time with those you fully trust and enjoy their company.
- Hobbies – Reserve some time other than work such as hobbies and interests that help you relax.
- Relaxation Methods – Try and learn relaxation activities such as yoga, meditating, and tai-chi.
- Acceptance – Try and learn to accept that you can’t control every event that happens in your life.
You aren’t alone in experiencing stress. In fact, everyone in the world is and has experienced it to varying degrees. If you are suffering from stress, try to reach out to the people you trust. Practice the methods listed above to manage stress, and always try and keep a positive mindset.
Dr.Debanajan B is a geriatric psychiatrist and leads the mental health division of reputed health analytics companies across Asia. He is passionate about blogging and aspires to become the best selling author someday!