Last week was International Stress Awareness Week, making it a great time to talk about how stress affects us and how we can manage it in a healthy way.
It might seem like stress mostly impacts our mental and emotional health. In reality, stress affects EVERY aspect of our health—and it can take a huge physical toll. By understanding all the ways stress affects us, we can increase our awareness around it and develop the tools to keep our stress levels in check.
Let’s start by exploring how stress affects us physically.
How does stress affect the body?
When you experience stress, it impacts your hormones, immune system, and the intestinal lining of the digestive system. Stress also directly impacts your adrenal glands, spleen, thymus, lymph glands, and your digestive process.
How does all of that happen? Well, it starts with the part of your brain called the hypothalamus. Your hypothalamus is in direct communication with the part of your brain that processes emotions. When the hypothalamus receives stress signals, it communicates the problem to your nervous system and adrenals, which then release hormones to respond to the stress: cortisol and adrenaline.
While this is happening, your body is recruiting all available reserves in your system to raise your blood glucose and increase the flow of oxygen, so that it can respond to the stressor. This was a helpful function when humans were trying to escape from predators—but it’s not so helpful when you’re stressed about relationship problems or a work project.
This is where people can actually become addicted to stress. In this state of fight or flight, our bodies produce high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can provide us with a heightened level of energy that allows us to power through. The problem with this, however, is there is always a tradeoff. Staying in fight or flight mode can cause us to experience all sorts of symptoms, from digestive problems to insomnia.
As you can see, stress has a significant effect on major systems that affect your overall wellbeing. If you’re trying to improve your mental and physical health, it’s crucial to be aware of the stressors in your life and develop tools for managing your stress.
Here are 5 tips for managing stress:
Increase self-awareness. Oftentimes we don’t realize we’re stressed, or we don’t realize the control we have around added stressors. By increasing your self-awareness and your own emotional intelligence, you put yourself in the driver’s seat.
Practice deep breathing. If you run on stress, you’re most likely breathing through your chest, rather than diaphragm breathing. This kind of shallow breathing can actually INCREASE stress within the body, because it limits the oxygen that gets into your lungs. By consciously focusing on your breathing and reminding yourself to take deep breaths, you can reduce the feelings of stress you’re experiencing.
Move your body. If you’re feeling stressed, one of the best things you can do is to get moving. Get outside, stretch, take a walk, hit the gym. Movement helps produce endorphins, the feel-good hormone, and allows your body to release the stress it’s been holding.
Prioritize self-care. Self-care can look like a lot of different things. Maybe it’s making time for a massage, or starting your day with meditation. In times of stress especially, it’s important to make the time to be present with yourself and practice self-care.
Stay present. When we realize all we can control is what we’re doing in this present moment, it drowns out the noise of “what if’s” and “shoulds” buzzing around our heads. Getting grounded in the present can help us gain perspective and reduce stress.
Get help managing your stress
I hope these tips give you some practical ways to manage your stress. If you’re still struggling to get your stress under control, and you’re experiencing the physical and emotional toll it brings, I’d love to help you. Schedule your free consultation with me here.
The content found on Integrative Counseling and Nutrition Consulting platform is not intended to be a substitute for professional therapeutic advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your psychiatrist, therapist or other qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a mental health condition.