Stress. We all feel it. It’s a natural, normal part of our daily lives—stress just means that your body and your brain are reacting to some kind of change or extra demand. But experiencing too much stress takes its toll on both your body and your mind. How much is too much, and how can you fight the negative effects?
Our bodies are designed to react to stress, but they are also made to rebound afterward. If someone faces continuous episodes of stress without relief or relaxation in between, that stress will become distress, and distress can lead to physical symptoms like:
- upset stomach
- elevated blood pressure
- chest pain
- sleep problems
People who are already experiencing illness or chronic diseases or conditions—diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis— may notice that certain symptoms get worse when they’re under stress.
Mental or Emotional Symptoms
Stress also takes a toll on our thoughts and feelings. People under prolonged stress may become irritable for no good reason, or depressed. Concentration becomes a problem, and true fatigue—that coffee won’t help with — sets in.
Stress is also a problem when sufferers use alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or even food to try to relieve it. Unfortunately, abuse of these substances actually has the opposite effect—they tend to keep the body in a constant state of stress and cause even more problems.
Both physical and mental/emotional symptoms take their toll on our hearts. Stress can trigger heart attacks and arrhythmias and even cause sudden death. (Although this happens mostly in people who already have heart disease, some people don’t know their diagnosis until stress brings on a heart attack or worse.)
Protect Your Heart
So what can you do to reduce your chances of damaging your heart or any other part of your body due to stress?
- Identify what’s causing your stress and try to develop a plan for addressing it. This may include asking for help with responsibilities or tasks both at work and at home.
- Work on relationships with others. Negativity or hostility with your spouse or significant other are highly stressful and should be addressed. And reaching out to family members or close friends can be extremely helpful—they can offer a fresh perspective, practical assistance or just a listening ear or supportive shoulder.
- Get more exercise. Walking or other physical activities can help you blow off steam. Plus, exercise increases the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood-booster.
- Improve your sleep. Your body needs sleep to rest and recover from the stresses of the day. Cut back on caffeine intake and set up a bedtime routine.
If you still feel like you’re under constant attack from stress, there’s no shame in seeking help. Did you know that Horizon offers private counseling services in Western New York? Talking to a licensed mental health professional about strategies for managing your stress more effectively could truly be a lifesaver! Call 716-831-1800 for more information.