Stress. A word we tend to use for many things in our lives. It can be related to events that happen at work, at home, at school, or even things we make up in our own mind. But did you know that stress is causing you a lot more than just worry. Left unaddressed, stress can cause many health problems that can affect your mood, your behavior and your physical body.
To understand why this can happen, first you need to understand what stress is. Stress is essentially your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand being placed upon it, be it physical, mental or emotional. Our natural physiological response to a perceived demand is to release stress hormones. These hormones act as your body’s natural defense system that help you determine whether you should get ready to “fight” or whether you should be preparing for “flight”. These stressors, whether positive or negative, eventually build up if left unchecked. In lifesaving situations stress is good, those short bursts of chemicals and hormones are needed to ensure your survival. But if that stress is chronic those chemicals and hormones can negatively affect you by suppressing functions that you do not need for immediate survival. This affects your body by lowering your immune system and inhibiting your digestive, excretory and reproductive systems to work normally.
Physical Effects of Stress on the Body
The physiological effects the stress response has on our body starts with the “fight” or “flight” hormones which stimulates the chemical processes in our body to follow. Our heat beats faster, our blood pressure raises and our bodies suppress functions that aren’t needed for immediate survival. This lowers your immune response and causes your digestive, excretory and reproductive systems not to function in the way it normally would. This can lead to many physical ailments including:
- Increased illness
- Stomach, digestion issues and excretory issues (nausea, diarrhea or constipation)
- Change or loss of sex drive
- Muscle aches, tension or pain
- Sleep problems
- Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
- Excess sweating
- Teeth/Jaw Grinding
So what does that have to do with sabotaging you? Besides the physiological symptoms your mood and your behavior can be affected leading to many unwanted thoughts, feelings and actions.
When our stress is chronic our mood can be severely affected and can range from anything from restlessness to complete lack of motivation. Other ways stress can affect our moods can include:
- Inability to maintain focus
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Sadness or depression
- Mood swings/irritability/frustration
- Low self-esteem
In addition to the effects on our moods and physiological effects stress has on our bodies, there are also behavioral patterns associated with stress, many of which exacerbate the negative effects on our mood. This turns into a viscous cycle that is often hard to break out of. Some of the behavior related sabotages are:
- Eating problems (overeating or undereating)
- Uncontrollable anger issues (outbursts)
- Substance abuse (drugs, alcohol or tobacco use)
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of motivation
How to Take Control of Your Stress
There are many steps you can take to help take control of your stress and stop the sabotaging behaviors associated with chronic stress.
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of what stresses you.
- Breathe. When you feel those symptoms coming on, simply take a minute to breathe. By taking three long deep breaths your body is notified that it no longer needs that stress response. Breathing supplies the body and brain with oxygen and provides a calming sensation in the body.
- Get Exercise. At least 30 minutes a day will dramatically improve your mood.
- Relax. Try a massage, meditation or some other relaxation exercise.
- Stay social. Don’t alienate yourself. Find people to be around that support you. Avoid people that bring you down.
- Set aside time for you. It is important to have time for you. In today’s world where everyone is demanding your time and energy, you should be demanding some time for you as well.
- Get Sleep. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, your body needs it.
- Eat a balanced diet. Nutrition is important for your body. Whatever you put in your body determines how it functions, so be aware of what you are eating and what benefits it has for your body.
- Get Help. If you are unable to reduce your stress, find someone qualified to help. Hypnotherapy is a great tool to help with stress relief.