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Effects of Stress on the Body

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By: Coach Jenny Early, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Community Wellness dept.

With a new year upon us there is much to celebrate but it can also be overwhelming.  Between juggling the regular workload, the never ending stack of bills, or the efforts made in getting your children to and from all of their extracurricular activities on time, stress can creep up just from being too busy.  And stress can look and feel different in different people; what can cause a lot of stress in one person might not affect another as much.  Our bodies are designed to handle stress in small doses on a day-to-day basis.  But, we were not made to handle long-term, chronic stress without damaging consequences.

Symptoms of Stress

Stress can affect all areas of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, ability to think clearly, and overall physical health.  Excessive stress that is left unmanaged can seriously compromise your health and well-being.  Due to the fact that people handle stress differently, the symptoms they experience can vary.

Stress can affect all areas of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, ability to think clearly, and overall physical health.

Emotional symptoms of stress include: feeling overwhelmed, becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody, struggling to relax and quiet down your mind, experiencing low self-esteem or feeling bad about yourself and making attempts to avoid others.

Physical symptoms of stress include: headaches, low energy, upset stomach, nervousness, cold or sweaty hands, clenched jaw, insomnia, aches, pains, and tense muscles, or even experiencing chest pains and a rapid heartbeat.

Cognitive symptoms of stress include: inability to focus, racing thoughts, poor judgment, constant worrying, forgetfulness, disorganization and often only seeing the negative side of things.

Behavioral symptoms of stress include:  displaying nervous behaviors, such as fidgeting, pacing and nail biting, procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities, changes in appetite (eating too much or not enough), and often an increase in use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.

Consequences of Long-Term Stress

Day-to-day stress in small doses is not something to be too concerned about.  Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause very severe health problems including:

  • Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
  • Obesity and other eating disorders
  • Menstrual problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
  • Sexual dysfunction and loss of sexual desire in both men and women

We asked some of the folks around the hospital how they deal with stress and those stressful moments and here is what a few of them had to say.

Panda who often works at the emergency department registration desk said, “Try to breathe and focus on one thing at a time.  You make more mistakes when you rush, so it’s important to stay focused”.

And one of our radiology tech laughingly said, “A big bottle of tequila and a basket of limes.  No really, that’s the easy way; it’s better to just go outside and take a deep breath, count to 7, exhale.  All things will pass”.

Managing and Reducing Stress.

Stress is here to stay; you will never be able to completely eliminate or avoid stress.  What you can do though, is increase your awareness of stress learn how to handle it.  The first step in managing your stress level and helping prevent a stress overload is recognizing the first signs of stress symptoms.  Pay attention to your body, how you act, and react to your surroundings when you feel stress creeping up in your life.

Here are some things you can do to help reduce the amount of stress you are experiencing.

Exercise – Working out on a regular basis helps not only improve your mood, but always relaxes your body and mind.   A daily 30 minute power walk and scheduling gym time 4 days a week for at least an hour each day can do wonders for your stress level.  If you don’t feel the gym is the right fit for you, consider other options such as a bike ride on an off road trail with some incline.

Muscle Relaxation – Stretching, taking a hot bath or shower, a few moments of mindfulness meditation, enjoying a massage and getting a good night’s sleep are ways you can help loosen up muscles due to stress tension.

Breathing Deep – By slowly and calmly taking deep breaths in and out as you imagine yourself being in a relaxed state of mind, can instantly take some of the pressure you are feeling away.  Try sitting down in a comfortable position and relax your body.  Begin by breathing in through your nostrils slow and steady, expanding and filling up your lungs as much as you can.  Once your lungs have reached full capacity, try exhaling through your nostrils at the same rate of speed as you inhaled.  After doing this exercise three times, you will find that your body is already beginning to relax and be more at ease.

Eat Well – Make good food choices.  Eating a well-balanced diet filled with vegetables, protein, fruit and whole grains helps fuel your body in the right way.  You will discover that overall diet and eating regularly will allow your body to have more energy throughout the day.

If you are struggling with stress or the symptoms of stress, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a provider at the SoHum Health Community Clinic where there are often same or next day appointments available, 707-923-3921.

SHCHD, Staff writer