We all know that familiar feeling: a tightness in the throat, a racing heart, or maybe even a trembling in the hands. Everyone experiences stress in different ways, but it can have a very negative impact on our health even if we think we’re dealing with it OK.
Stress is an unfortunate reality for most people. From finances to work stress to worry about politics or the environment, we all have stress in our lives . Here are some health problems that stress can cause, and tips for coping with stress in beneficial ways.
High Blood Pressure
Stress has been long known to contribute to high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
This is because your body produces a rush of powerful hormones when you feel stressed or worried. The hormones cause your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow, which leads to an increase in blood pressure. Next, find out what you can do to combat high blood pressure.
Drop That Number
Luckily, there are plenty of (natural) ways to help keep your blood pressure in check. Double bonus: these actions can also help limit the amount of stress you feel, too.
Watch your waistline and lose those extra pounds. Exercise, eat a healthy diet, watch the amount of sodium you consume and limit alcohol intake, and you might surprise your doctor next time she checks your blood pressure!
It’s no surprise that we often have difficulty sleeping when we’re stressed. After all, who can relax enough to fall asleep when they’re in crisis mode?
Sleep experts say that stress can lead to insomnia because it causes a state called “hyperarousal,” which throws our sleep/wakefulness balance out of whack.
How To Get A Better Night’s Sleep
The first step to getting better sleep is to directly deal with the source of your stress. While this might be uncomfortable, you have to face the issue head-on in order to find a solution. You can’t keep ignoring a problem in the hopes that it will improve magically.
Until you’ve found a suitable solution to your stress (a new job, way to pay off a debt, going to a therapist), you can make your bedroom as calm and peaceful as possible before bed. Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m., don’t look at your phone or computer while in bed, and you might even ask your doctor for a short-term sleeping aid.
People with high levels of stress seem to store a lot of extra weight in their belly. Unfortunately, fat stored there has been linked to heart disease, inflammation, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stroke. Not good news!
The culprit is a hormone called cortisol, which the body produces lots of when it’s under stress. Cortisol somehow causes that extra fat to become deposited in the abdomen, versus other areas of the body.
Lose That Weight
Steer clear of fad diets, which promise quick results but are virtually impossible to stick to. For long-term weight loss, experts recommend that you consume a healthy balance of proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates.
Whether it’s walking, jogging, running, playing tennis, swimming, yoga, biking, or even gardening – find a physical activity that you enjoy and stick to it. Consistency is key when it comes to working out.
Chronic stress can weaken your immune system, which in turn can cause you to get sick more often.
People who report that they’re frequently stressed also say that they’re constantly battling everything from colds to urinary tract infections to bronchitis. They also say that they always feel tired or “run down.” Feeling sick all the time definitely doesn’t help the quality of life!
It’s vital that you boost your immunity in any way you can, to stop the cycle of sickness. Exercise, get enough sleep, wash your hands thoroughly, and shun alcohol and cigarettes.
Did you know that there are a lot of foods out there that are known to power your immune system? Try loading up on the following surprising superfoods: blueberries, garlic, yogurt, tea, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and squash.
Who knew? Several recent studies have shown that stress can affect fertility. This is big news for people trying to conceive a child, which can already be a stressful situation.
Women who have increased levels of the stress enzyme alpha-amylase have been shown to have a harder time getting pregnant.
Limit Stress To Improve Fertility
Though experts say that stress plays a relatively minor role in fertility, after other factors like advanced age, smoking, or ovarian problems, people looking to become pregnant should try and limit their stress levels.
“Just relax and it’ll happen.” It’s often said that women become pregnant on vacation because they’re less stressed. Book a quick trip, even if it’s just a night or two in a romantic bed and breakfast nearby.
As stress has such a strong link to our physical health, there are (unfortunately) some signs that it could also affect cancer rates.
Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor of General Oncology and Behavioral Science at MD Anderson says, “stress has a profound impact on how your body’s systems function,” and it actually “makes your body more hospitable to cancer.”
Lower Your Cancer Risk
There are plenty of precautions to take against cancer, even if stress is an unavoidable part of your daily life.
Here are just a few preventative measures against cancer: don’t smoke, eat healthy (lots of fruits and vegetables), avoid processed meats, exercise regularly, and get regular cancer screenings.
This one might seem obvious. People who are stressed are probably more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to relieve their unpleasant feelings of anxiety.
Research on the brain has repeatedly proven that those people who are exposed to stress are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs. And those who have overcome an addiction or more likely to relapse when faced with a stressful situation.
Treating Substance Abuse
The primary goal in treating substance abuse that’s a result of life stressors is to identify and minimize those problems. There are a few ways to deal with substance abuse issues.
As cliché as it sounds, many people have successfully replaced drug addiction or alcoholism with healthy alternatives. During times of stress, identifying “trigger behaviors” and replacing them with non-toxic activities can be immensely beneficial to overall well-being.
The effects of stress on the body can certainly increase the risk of heart disease. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating can all contribute to the disease that causes one out of every four deaths.
The most common symptoms of heart disease include high blood pressure, chest pains, or irregular heartbeats. If you experience any of these, make an appointment with your physician.
Heart Disease Prevention
Giving up smoking, exercising regularly, trying to maintain an optimistic attitude, limiting caffeine, and eating a healthy diet can all help prevent heart disease.
Managing stress is key. Reducing the impact of stress on the body, and specifically the heart, can be as simple as taking up yoga or meditation. Anything that helps you cope with life’s challenges will benefit your cardiovascular health.
Skin And Hair Problems
Dealing with stress can cause a range of skin problems to flare up, like dry skin spots, eczema, acne and psoriasis.
Stress can affect hair, too. It might sound petty to some, but if your hair falls out, appears dull, or just isn’t looking its best, that can contribute to more stress. It’s a vicious cycle.
Treating Your Skin And Hair
Visit a dermatologist if necessary and explain that you’re under a lot of stress lately. He or she will be able to counsel you on the best way to treat your skin conditions, whether that means simply switching to a slightly richer moisturizer or getting a prescription to help combat that eczema.
The same goes for your hairdresser – they’re an expert at what they do! See if yours can recommend a product or styling regimen that can allow your hair to repair and replenish itself.
A Scary Statistic About Premature Death
Yikes! A long-term study that followed 1,300 men found that those who self-reported extremely high stress levels were three times more likely to die early than people who reported less stress. This is a frightening statistic, one that should get you motivated to combat stress. Next: the #1 best way to deal with stress.
Exercise, Exercise, And Exercise Some More
Exercise, especially yoga and meditation, is commonly cited as the most effective way to reduce the risk of premature death due to stress. So do it!
In general, experts recommend exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of sleep as your baseline defense against that monster we all know as stress.
Don’t Be Afraid To Bring In The Big Guns
If you’re suffering from a particularly grueling amount of stress, don’t be afraid to visit a counselor. Your health is just too important to ignore, and a professional therapist will be able to guide you to more effective ways to cope.