Stress and anxiety are felt daily by 55% of adults in the United States! (13) Are you getting signs and symptoms of stress? The holiday season is often described as the most stressful time of year. Stress can be traveling, shopping for presents, hosting the holiday, or preparing for the new year. It comes in many shapes and forms. In this article, we will discuss stress and what you can do to relieve it.
What is Stress?
Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to any change that requires a reaction. Your body responds to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is completely natural and can be caused by several factors. It can be caused by your environment or your body. Also, stress can be positive or negative. For example, getting married is a positive event. However, it is also stressful due to planning and finances.
Now that we know what stress is, we will discuss how it affects your body.
How Does Stress Affect Your Body?
Your body is supposed to experience stress and have responses to it. Sometimes it is positive. For example, stress makes you stay alert in case of danger. However, stress is negative when you experience continuous stressors without a break in between them. When this happens, your body becomes exhausted because of the tension building in it. Your nervous system has an automatic stress reaction that helps in stressful events. This reaction is called “fight or flight.” It is built into our bodies for emergency situations. However, if this response is triggered for a prolonged period of time, it causes damage to your body. This damage can be physical and emotional. (8)
Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems
The central nervous system controls your “fight or flight” response. Your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. Then they increase your heartbeat and rush your blood to your important organs. Once your stressor has decreased, your body should go back to normal. However, in cases of chronic stress sometimes that doesn’t happen.
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems
Adrenaline and cortisol are stress hormones. They affect both your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. When the stressor is affecting you, your breath will become faster so that it is able to distribute blood to the important organs in your body. However, if you have asthma, stress will make it more difficult to breathe. (4)
Therefore, sometimes chronic stress makes your heart work too much. This will make your blood pressure rise, which will put you at risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
When your body is under stressful conditions, the liver increases blood sugar to increase your energy. However, if you are chronically stressed, your body can’t keep up. Therefore, chronic stress can put you at risk for type 2 diabetes.
Your digestive system may be affected as a result of the hormones, fast breathing, and rapid heartbeat. This will make you more likely to develop acid reflux because of stomach acid. It can also affect you because it can lead to diarrhea or constipation. Other symptoms may include nausea, stomach pain, or vomiting.
The reason that muscles tense up when stressed is that they are trying to protect themselves. Once you relax, your muscles usually release the tightness. However, if you suffer from chronic stress, your muscles will not get a chance to relax. This can lead to headaches, back, and shoulder pain. (12) Unfortunately, this sets up a negative cycle if you stop exercising because you are in too much pain.
Sexuality and Reproductive System
Stress is very tiring for your mind and body. This can cause you to lose your desire for sex. Short-term stress causes men to make more testosterone. However, this side effect is not long-lasting.
Chronic stress causes testosterone levels to decrease. This can cause erectile dysfunction and decrease sperm production. It can also cause an increase in prostate and testes infections. (5)
Women are affected differently. Stress can cause the menstrual cycle to become irregular, or more painful. Chronic stress may also increase the symptoms of menopause. (7) A study done on 103 women discovered that high-stress levels are related to lower sexual activity. (3)
When your body is stressed, your immune system reacts by avoiding infections. However, chronic stress eventually weakens your immune system. This is why people under chronic stress are more likely to develop the flu and other infections. Additionally, stress increases the amount of time it takes to recover from illnesses.
Now that we’ve discussed different ways that stress affects your body. We will discuss some warning signs of stress.
What Are Some Signs and Symptoms of Stress?
There are many signs and symptoms of chronic stress. You may feel several of these symptoms at once, or only one at a time. It depends on how your individual body deals with stress. Some symptoms of stress include:
- General Body Aches
- Weight Gain or Loss
- Stomach Pain or Digestion Issues
- Muscle Tension
- Acid Reflux
- Teeth Grinding
Stress can cause a large variety of pain. These can include jaw, chest, stomach, neck, and back pain. When you are anxious, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol causes inflammation and a faster heartbeat. Therefore, you will begin to feel pain in your body. (6)
Stress can also cause headaches. In fact, a study of 267 people with chronic headaches was done. The results found that a stressful event preceded the development of chronic headaches in about 45% of cases. (1)
Insomnia can be caused by stress as well. Sometimes we have concerns about work or finances. When this happens, your mind is active at night. This makes it more difficult for your body to fall asleep. Insomnia can be caused by divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one as well.
Stress can cause exhaustion. This can be related to mental or physical exhaustion. A study of 2,483 people was done. It found that fatigue increases stress levels. (2) It also can be caused by insomnia.
Weight gain is a reaction to stress. This can be caused by the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is known to increase appetite, and decrease your metabolism. Additionally, it can cause higher insulin levels. That makes your blood sugar decrease, and you will start to crave sugar. These reactions can make you gain weight. (9)
As we stated earlier, stress can disrupt the digestion process. This can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Teeth grinding is an involuntary process that happens while we sleep. This is due to anxiety and stress as well. Most of the time, we are not aware of it unless your dentist notices damage to your teeth. (10)
Dizziness is a common symptom of stress. In fact, just the act of thinking about a stressor can result in dizziness. Scientists believe that the areas in the brain responsible for dizziness interact with the areas responsible for anxiety. This is what causes both anxiety and dizziness. (11)
Now that you know the signs and symptoms of stress, we will discuss some tips to help lower your stress levels.
What Can You Do to Lower it When You Have Signs and Symptoms of Stress?
There are a few ways to lower stress levels. Here is a list of some ways and we will discuss them further below.
- Get the Proper Amount of Sleep
- Keep Healthy Relationships
- Take Care of Pets
- Eat Healthy Foods
- Take Supplements
The proper amount of sleep is crucial for reducing stress. You should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you are sleep deprived, it becomes harder for you to focus. When you have trouble focusing, you are more likely to get stressed out. The more stressed out you are, the more likely you are to snap at your friends and family. This will create stress in your relationships too. If you follow the suggestions below you will indirectly help yourself get the proper amount of sleep as well.
Exercising is known for reducing stress levels. Exercising as little as 30 minutes each day helps reduce stress levels and helps sleep quality. (14)
During your lifetime, your personal needs will change. Some of your relationships will change as well. If you are experiencing constant stress in a relationship, it may be time to end the involvement. You owe it to yourself to limit the amount of time you spend on people who increase your stress level.
It is well known that there are many benefits to pet ownership. A 2016 survey of pet owners found that 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership. (15)
Eating healthy foods is another way to reduce stress. Foods like dark green vegetables, avocados, and fatty fish are beneficial for stress. Dark green vegetables contain magnesium, which helps to regulate breathing and heart rate. Avocados contain potassium. Potassium helps to maintain normal functioning of muscles and nerves. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3-fatty acids help to decrease depression and improve cognitive performance.
Ashwagandha root is the best supplement to take decrease stress levels. This ingredient helps your body to manage stress. It also has other benefits for your body that help fight stress. Those benefits are that it boosts brain function, lowers blood sugar, cortisol levels, and decreases symptoms of anxiety. (16)
Now hopefully you have learned more about stress and how your body reacts to it. We hope that you use some of the tips that we have provided to decrease your stress levels this holiday season and the rest of the year.