In today’s fast-paced, competitive market, the vast majority of us are under constant stress, whether we realize it or not. Working late hours, rushing meals, and sitting for long periods of time can have a lasting impact on the state of our mental and physical health. For some, the signs of chronic stress show up as frequent headaches, trouble focusing, memory loss, and irritability. For others, these symptoms might be more obvious, such as fatigue and trouble sleeping.
However, one thing is true, no matter how obvious your symptoms: stress can wreak havoc on the mind and body. Conversely, learning to manage and reduce the stressors in your life can instantly uplift your mood and improve your quality of life.
The Physical Effects of Stress
Understanding what’s physiologically going on when you’re under constant stress is a crucial aspect of discovering the best approaches for stress management.
When stressed, your body:
- Secretes hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can suppress your immune system, increase your heart rate, and even trigger excess fat storage (Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism).
- Reduces the release of progesterone in women and testosterone in men, both of which can cause a lowered sex drive and may lead to complications related to fertility in women (Human Reproduction).
- Slows your digestive functioning, which can result in indigestion, nausea, inflammation, and diarrhea or constipation (Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology).
The Cognitive Effects of Stress
Similarly, the hormones that your body releases when under chronic stress can negatively impact your cognitive functioning, mental health, and overall mood. Just some of the mental effects that stress can have on your body include:
- Reduced ability to make decisions or think clearly
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Reduced productivity
- Unexplained anger or irritability
- Social withdrawal
Tips for Stress Management
If you notice any combination of these physical and mental signs of chronic stress, taking steps to better manage the everyday stressors in your life can have a huge impact on your health. And the best part about learning to cope with stress is that it doesn’t have to mean making dramatic sacrifices. By adopting a few healthy living strategies, you can significantly reduce your stress levels and help your mind and body to optimally function.
Try these key tips for getting your stress under control:
- Incorporate daily exercise into your routine.
- Practice meditative exercises like tai chi or yoga.
- Spend time in nature.
- Eat a healthy diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains.
- Avoid excessive alcohol use and smoking.
- Make time for the things (and people!) you love.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to get so bogged down with work and other obligations that you lose awareness of your physical and mental health. It’s not normal to constantly feel sluggish, tired, achy or dazed–these are all signs that something’s just not right. In most cases, if you take some time to evaluate the stressors in your life, you’ll likely find that they quickly add up to a chronic problem.
But the good news is that stress doesn’t have to rule your life. You have the power to make the necessary changes to give priority to what’s really important to you. If you value running or spending time outdoors, carve out time for these activities. Don’t continually put yourself and your needs on the backburner as you care for everyone else. Establish control and manage your stress for a healthier, happier and fuller life.
If you’d like to learn more about improving your health and your life, consider signing up to take part in the Women’s Health Conversations 2016 Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. The aim is to give women the opportunity to feel inspired, empowered, and educated about their own health concerns. Register today to become a part of the conversation yourself!