We all have our own sources of stress in our lives. Whether we have busy work lives, chaotic home life, traumatic experiences or struggles with mental and/or physical health, this all puts extra strain on the body. Stress has become a normal addition to most people’s lives and we don’t take into consideration that we should even be working to reduce it. So many of us grow up learning the mentality that stress is just a part of life and there’s nothing we can do about it. This is false. Stress plays a huge part in the way you function through life and there’s so many ways to offset it. This week I’ll discuss the actual ways stress can negatively impact us and next week I’ll detail some of the many ways to reduce stress and improve your quality of life.
It’s important to note that there are multiple types of stress and not all stress is bad. We all have stress that comes as an immediate response to a situation or environment. These small stressors are totally normal and can give your body the boost to focus-in and get the task done. It’s when you have daily stress that it causes a negative response. The body is not meant to function with daily stress. This response is meant to be for short periods of time, and actually shuts down function on some parts of the body to focus energy towards overcoming the stressful situation. Basically a “fight-or-flight” response. When you have daily stress, the body cannot function at its best because there’s just not enough energy to go around!
After a period of time, this strain to the body can cause physical and physiological changes. These changes can even be long lasting, so reducing the impact of life’s stress is of vital importance! The negatives of compounded stress include, but are not limited to:
1) Muscle tension
When we are stressed it’s common to tighten our muscles. Prolonged muscle tension can lead to general body pain. Oftentimes this body pain can present with tightness or tension to the neck or shoulders and cause headaches and migraines. These headaches and migraines may present even without correlating neck or shoulder pain.
The constant state of tense muscles can also lead to muscle imbalances. You may have trouble engaging the correct muscles when you move or exercise and that could lead to pain and discomfort in other areas, as well as difficulty getting around. We want our muscles to function properly to support our daily activities.
2) Impacts digestion
Digestion is impacted by stress whether it is regular stress to the body or the occasional stressful day. The body’s immediate response is fight-or-flight when in panic and this means many of the regular functions of the body are stopped or altered. In regards to digestion, the body actually produces more stomach acid which can cause heartburn or indigestion. Stress also causes muscle tension that can lead to stomach cramps, and the body may not be able to distinguish nutrients vs. waste in the body.
Prolonged periods of stress to the body causes changes to the hormones that help regulate digestion and this can lead to constipation, diarrea, irritable bowel syndrome and many other issues. This can lead to general discomfort after a lot of meals, weight gain, weight loss, and generally not feeling good. Years of stress on the body can take years to overcome, and may even lead to some permanent digestive issues.
3) Changes to Respiration
The periods of panic that can arise from stress can often lead to panic attacks, shortness of breath or accelerated breathing. This is particularly hard for those with asthma, and can quickly lead to asthma attacks. These periods of intense breathing can also impact the function of the body and could lead to dizziness and/or general body weakness.
4) Impacts sleep
With stress a person is often left feeling anxious and filled with worry. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. The reduced sleep then leads to more anxiety about knowing you may not sleep well. It becomes a never ending pattern!
5) Changes Cardio health
This can lead to a faster beating heart and higher levels of stress hormones in the body. Can lead to a higher chance of heart attack or stroke. Stress can actually lead to a reduction in blood flow and this can lead to the heart not getting enough blood or oxygen. This can cause blood clots and a lot of other health risks.
6) Can cause reproductive issues
Did you know that prolonged periods of stress can actually stop your period or lead to fertility issues? When the body is in fight-or-flight mode, the unnecessary functions of the body are often slowed down or stopped since the body does not have enough energy to internally panic and successfully run the body functions. The reproduction system is considered an “unnecessary” system in the body.
Those prolonged times of stress can cause a change in the overall function of the reproduction system and lead to fertility issues. One of the first recommendations from doctors for those struggling to get pregnant is to reduce stress and find mindful activities. Your PH balance is also impacted by stress less and can easily be thrown off and lead to infection. There’s also some correlation between stress and general hormone function leading to worsened periods or things like hormonal outbreaks.
7) Reduces immune response
Something that is often not mentioned is how a negative state of mind impacts the immune system. There’s an entire field of science called psychoneuroimmunology that studies the connection between stress on the neurological function of the body and how that changes immune function. Simply put, constant stress changes the neurological function of the brain and leads to a reduction in the cells of the body that help fight disease and infection. Long term stress and depression can completely destroy your immune function and make you more susceptible to infection, colds, flus, and disease. It will also take you longer to recover. Your immune function could be compromised for a long time and take a lot to reverse the damage.
As much as we all think stress is normal, it’s important to know that stress is not meant to be a daily part of our lives. If your life seems constantly in a spiral and you are suffering from any of the above issues, it's definitely time to look at ways of reducing stress. Even if you seem to have no side effects, any time you can minimize the negatives in your life, you will set yourself up for a happier life. I know this all sounds easy in theory but there are actually so many easy changes you can make that will drastically improve your life. Next week I’ll discuss short-term and long-term ways to reduce the impact of stress and help find some balance!
Until next week… and remember health is for all!