Feeling Worked Up? Here’s How Stress Affects Your Mind and Body
Let’s get the record straight: managing your stress levels is just as important as making nutritious food choices or heading to bed on time. What are the life consequences when your stress is out of control?
Countless research has proven that the activities of the brain are fundamentally linked to the wellbeing of the body. Just like a muscle that endures routine training, people’s minds are conditioned to handle different levels of stress based on several different factors like genetics and environmental experiences.
However, muscles eventually fatigue, and so does your brain when too many nagging worries gum up its daily responsibilities. What happens when your body takes too much stress?
Here’s a brief rundown of the effects stress can have on you, as well as a few tips to help reduce stress in your life.
How Does Stress Affect Your Immune System?
Whether you know it or not, you’re likely very familiar with the hormone named cortisol if you’ve been anxious lately.
Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone because it is one of the primary hormones released by your endocrine stress response system, along with adrenaline. Whenever your brain perceives a situation to be dangerous or uncontrollable, it kicks off a series of events that ultimately flood your body with cortisol in an attempt to aid you in your plight.
The main role of cortisol is to provide you with a boost of physical and mental power. It achieves this by burning stored glucose reserves in your body, thus giving you quick and efficient energy.
There is nothing inherently bad with cortisol; after all, your body naturally produces it throughout each day so you have the energy you need in a natural cycle. However, when you’re stressed, your brain gives you extra cortisol to help you through the challenge you’re facing.
The problems begin to arise when your stress response system is triggered too much. Chronic stress can severely hurt the relationship between cortisol and your immune system. Although cortisol is supposed to improve your immune system for a time (helping your body in case of injury), too much of it can weaken your immune response and leave you susceptible to disease, both physically and mentally. These include conditions like chronic fatigue, depression, and disorders associated with your metabolism.
How Does Stress Affect Your Body?
The presence of elevated cortisol levels causes your body to tense up as a reflex, bracing to endure pain. All of your muscles naturally constrict when this happens, and adrenaline travels through your bloodstream.
As a result, your airways shrink, your heart rate increases, and your internal fight-or-flight response kicks in. These factors make can make it difficult to breathe, raise your blood pressure, and even produce sweat as your body anticipates a life-threatening situation (even when there isn’t one).
Other changes throughout your body can also affect your mood during stressful times. For instance, the bacteria inside of your gut play a critical role in the health of your brain and are closely linked to your emotions. When stress enters the picture, however, the bacteria in your gut don’t respond favorably, causing the nerves lining the gut to send poor signals to the brain, ultimately altering your mood for the worse.
These physical responses to stress are normal and healthy, intended to steel you against adversity. But similarly to your brain, when your muscles tense over and over again or stay taut for long periods of time, issues start to form.
Chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders are commonly experienced amongst individuals suffering from prolonged stress. When muscles aren’t allowed to relax, they might start to grow sore and signal even more stress-related setbacks down the line. Injuries and headaches are frequently brought about by stress in this way.
How Can I Avoid Stress?
The aforementioned effects of stress (and many more) mean that taking measures to eliminate unnecessary stress in your life can help secure your health and happiness for many years to come. Here are a few ways you can trim off some unreasonable stress.
- Get Appropriate Sleep
Sleep directly influences your perceived stress levels each day. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t get enough time to fully recharge and heal, causing your brain to struggle with its ability to form clear, concise thoughts and properly focus. Stress creeps in when this happens.
To make matters worse, high levels of stress make falling asleep the next night difficult, further reducing your sleep in a nasty cycle. The best way to counter this dilemma is to get enough sleep in the first place—but if you find yourself stuck in the cycle, try these other tips.
- Check Your Nutrition
Sometimes the very food you eat can influence the amount of anxiety you feel, as well as the way your body responds to ongoing stress.
One study demonstrated that population diets emphasizing whole foods were statistically less likely to experience overwhelming stress. This is compared to populations preferring unhealthy “junk food” diets, which reported increased stress.
Take a moment to analyze your nutritional decisions. Consuming too much sugar and processed foods will have a negative impact on both your physical and mental wellness more often than not.
- Manually Remove Stress
Are you able to identify areas of your life that bring about unnecessary stress? Maybe you spend time with people who treat you poorly, or you have a nasty substance addiction. You might even be overworked, or simply lonely.
Although many aspects of our lives are outside of our control, there are still plenty of areas that we have the power to change. Taking a hard look at your lifestyle and taking the initiative to clean the stress out of it can do wonders for your peace of mind in the long run.
- Seek Help
Not all battles are best fought alone, and coping with large amounts of stress is one of them.
If you or a loved one are suffering from stress, anxiety, or other mental setbacks, never hesitate to find help from a trusted friend, family member, psychiatrist, or professional therapist. Even if all you need is a second pair of eyes to scout out your life for stressors that can be eliminated, the simple act of having someone by your side can make you feel more comfortable and willing to take action and pursue stress-free living.
Remember that everyone experiences stress and has different ways of dealing with it. While these tips might help, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that is guaranteed to help you feel better. Seeking professional help is often the best way to discover how you can personally shrug off your mental burdens and live with a calm mind once again.