When you feel overwhelmed, your thoughts start racing through every conceivable scenario. You grow irritable, and little things that previously didn’t bother you begin to drive you crazy.
You know how too much tension affects your mind and mood, but what about your body? As it turns out, stress can have multiple adverse effects and even shorten your lifespan. Here’s what you need to know, as well as techniques to help you calm yourself.
How Stress Impacts You Physically
You go for a hike, and you see a bear. Automatically, several physiological changes take place. Your eyes send a message to your amygdala, which then cries SOS to your hypothalamus. That gets your central nervous system in gear and triggers your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, soon followed by cortisol. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase to supply critical oxygen to your muscles to prepare you for fight or flight. This process all occurs before you start tiptoeing backward.
In a short-term crisis like the above, your body returns to homeostasis, or a normal resting state, once the threat passes. However, while you can beat a retreat before mama bear spies you, it’s more challenging to escape looming deadlines, micromanaging bosses and bill collectors. This prolonged stress keeps your cortisol levels high.
Small doses of cortisol improve immune function and relieve pain, but your body gets used to elevated levels during periods of ongoing disquiet. As a result, the hormone loses its palliative effect and leads to inflammation.
The current pandemic creates the perfect meltdown pot. Women, in particular, feel the crunch. While both sexes must adjust to the new reality, women tend to carry a greater sense of responsibility than their male counterparts. When it comes to juggling homeschooling the kids with telecommuting, the lioness is most likely to step up to the plate — and shoulder the burden of added stress.
A prolonged stress response damages nearly every system in your body. Stress hormones directly impact your heart and increase oxygen demand through your body, making it pump harder. It can also interfere with the electrical impulses this organ relies on to function properly, which can lead to an attack or stroke.
Stress also impacts your gastrointestinal system. You might recall a time when you got butterflies in your stomach before a performance review or the first day at a new job. People with autoimmune or inflammatory bowel disease often experience worsening symptoms when things grow tense. Researchers suspect this may be due to changes in your intestinal microbiota, or beneficial bacteria that inhabit the area.
Perhaps most frighteningly right now, stress can hinder your immune response. Studies in rats show that the number of T-cells, a critical type of white blood cell for fighting infection, decreases significantly when subjected to repeated tension over several days. If the mere thought of running out for groceries sends you into a paroxysm of fear about catching the COVID-19 virus, your emotions could ironically increase your chances of getting sick.
What You Can Do to Manage Stress During Uncertain Times
Getting a grip on your stress levels can benefit your overall health significantly. How can you do so, though, when so much uncertainty abounds, even among world leaders? Try these techniques to manage your emotions positively:
- Meditate: You don’t need to spend a dime to learn how to meditate. All you need is a quiet space where you can sit and focus solely on your breath. As thoughts intrude, as they will, observe them neutrally. Then, let them go. Remember, the mere fact that you feel worried about something means it isn’t happening at present. If you prefer the guidance of a teacher, you can find ample meditation videos on YouTube for free.
- Exercise: When you work out, your body releases endorphins, natural feel-good chemicals that help you to relax. For best results, keep your fitness time to under an hour. While moderate exercise decreases your cortisol levels, prolonged bouts can raise them. Save the marathon training for a less anxious time.
- Do yoga: Yoga unites your breath and body movement. It combines the mental benefits of meditation with the physical perks of exercise. You don’t need any equipment except perhaps a mat, and you can find ample free videos online.
Lower Your Stress Levels and Improve Your Health
If you want to improve your physical health, it pays to start by getting a handle on your stress. By using natural, holistic techniques to tame the tension tiger, you can improve the length and quality of your years.
About the author:
Kate is a health and wellness journalist with an interest in holistic healing and all-natural living. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her blog, So Well, So Woman.