According to a Gallup poll, 44% of Americans say they frequently feel stressed. No matter the source of your stress, if you don’t get relief, it’s likely having a negative impact on your body. Here are three ways that stress can impact your health.
Your respiratory and cardiovascular system work harder
The hormones that your body releases when you’re under stress can cause you to breathe faster, your heart to beat faster, and your blood vessels to constrict. All of those reactions place additional pressure on your respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Over time, the extra work those two critical systems are doing can result in high blood pressure, aggravate other conditions such as asthma, and ultimately increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, adding chronic stress to the mix can be especially dangerous.
In addition raising your risk of heart disease, your body’s reaction to stress can cause problems with your digestive system. Stress hormones combined with faster breathing and your heart beating faster can make your body produce more glucose, or blood sugar, than it needs. High blood sugar levels can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Other digestive problems that have been linked to stress include:
- Acid reflux, or heartburn
- Stomach pain
You’re likely to experience more pain
There are several ways that stress can lead to increased pain levels. One is that stress can cause you to unconsciously tense your muscles. This is part of your fight-or-flight response, but if you’re body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, your muscles never relax.
The constant tension can cause pain in your shoulders, back, and neck. It can also cause tension headaches, and all over body aches.
Pleasurable activities may become less appealing
Sadly, many of the things that help relieve stress become less appealing when you’re feeling stress. For example, when you’re in pain, you usually don’t feel like exercising. Exercise is one proven way to reduce stress.
Additionally, lack of exercise exacerbates all the other problems that stress can cause: your cardiovascular health suffers, your risk of type 2 diabetes increases even more, and your muscles continue to stay clenched and tight.
Stress also tends to affect your sex drive. Men may have lower levels of testosterone, which could lead to lower sperm counts and erectile dysfunction or impotence. Women may experience intense symptoms of menopause, or have irregular or more painful menstrual cycles.
Sleep may also be more elusive. Your high levels of stress can cause insomnia, and lack of sleep is associated with a number of chronic health conditions.
What you should do
Chronic stress paints a grim picture for your overall health, but there are steps you can take to reduce your stress levels and protect your health. Recognizing that you’re stressed is an important first step.
Building in a regular exercise routine that you enjoy can help reduce stress. Simply taking a brisk walk can get your blood moving, clear your mind, and help lower your body’s reaction to stress. Finding an activity that you enjoy is important, because otherwise you probably won’t stick with it.
Many people find activities like yoga or tai chi helpful because they include both physical movement and a focus on breathing. Paying attention to your breathing can have a calming, meditative effect, lowering your stress reactions.
Work on improving your sleep hygiene. Developing a bedtime routine may seem like something you would do for your child rather than yourself. However, doing things like turning the lights down and putting away screens an hour or so before bed can be helpful if you’re struggling to go to sleep.
Sometimes, stress can make you feel like there’s no time, and when you feel like you don’t have time, you’re more likely to hit the drive-thru on your way home. Nutrition is important to good overall health, and taking the time to prepare healthy food can be a way to relieve stress. You get the double benefit of eating healthful food and slowing down long enough to prepare it.
If you feel like you’re not managing your stress, or you’re worried it’s affecting your health, book an appointment at Apex Medical Center. Our staff is happy to help you look for ways to manage your stress levels and live a healthy lifestyle! You can schedule online or by phone.