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How Are Stress and Health Connected

How Are Stress and Health Connected

We all experience short-term stress at one point or another during the day, whether due to an important meeting, the tribulations of traffic, or simply the frenzy of family. But long-term stress can turn a healthy and protective physical response into chronic fatigue.

How Are Stress and Health Connected?
Chronic stress and poor stress management can have serious effects on the body, and vice versa. When your body is constantly in the mode of “fight or flight”, the stress alters normal physiological functions and can lead to disruptions in sleep, poor cardiovascular activity, changes in the digestive system, and mediocre operation of the body’s immune response. Conversely, poor diet, lack of exercise, and insufficient hydration can add unwelcome stress to your mind and mood as well.

While the effects of stress on the body can be harmful when experienced over long periods of time there are simple ways to relieve those effects. Taking positive steps to take care of your physical and mental self, along with practicing a few skills to help manage stressful situations will lead to feelings of wellbeing and more relaxation and happiness. (Something we can always use a bit more of!)

Difficulty sleeping, low energy, anger, tension headaches, increased drinking (alcohol), and depression are all signs you may be experiencing prolonged, chronic stress. Listening to what your body may be telling you and keeping an eye on symptoms is a great first step to recognizing stress, and working to relieve it.

A stressed mind can lead to a stressed gastrointestinal system, which disrupts communication between the brain and the gut. This can trigger discomfort, bloating, and changes in the stomach’s natural bacteria which influences mood and emotions. Stressful feelings can also lead to an increase or decrease in appetite, causing us to reach for food that makes us sluggish, or overeating “comfort” foods (stress eating). Focus on treating your body with healthy options that will fuel your mind and elevate your mood.

Keeping up the physical activity does a lot to help regulate emotions, increase endorphins, and relieve stress. Aim for active ways to help manage the stress: strap on those sneakers, or change up your routine to get the blood pumping, take up yoga, tai-chi, or meditation that melds in a mindfulness practice. While inactive activities, such as watching television, playing video games, or browsing the internet may seem relaxing they may actually increase stress levels over time.

We know you’ve heard it before, but getting plenty of water is essential and responsible for so many health benefits we can hardly count! From relieving headaches, fighting fatigue, taming muscle tension, providing cell hydration (which helps cells function and makes skin glow!), the wow effect of water is a great healthy habit to harbor. Water directly affects your cortisol levels, so keep things lively by mixing up your water flavors and keep sipping that stress away.

Whether it’s jumping on the trampoline with your kids, taking some time to laugh at your sister’s bad jokes, or enjoying a cup of tea and a good book, the calming effects of fun time have been proven over and over again. Blocking off time on your calendar to spend with friends or tending to a hobby you enjoy does wonders to mitigate tension. Try listening to music, solving a crossword, or even just taking a break to enjoy your lunch and you’ll be kissing your concerns goodbye.

Because stress takes a toll on immune function, make sure you’re keeping an eye on your vitamin intake. Vitamins and minerals are essential for good health, so increasing the amount of nutrient-dense whole foods you eat, drinking more beverages that pack a vitamin-rich punch, and avoiding processed ingredients will help minimize anxious feelings.

If you have tried several stress-relieving techniques and still continue to have symptoms, talk to your doctor. You can also consider speaking with a therapist or a trusted counsellor to help identify the sources of your stress along with providing tools to cope. Check with your healthcare provider to eliminate other potential causes of stress. If you have severe symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea, get emergency help immediately. These may be warning signs of something even more serious.

While it may be challenging at first, having the tools to catch the effects of stress in the act can help us to relieve it quickly. Although our body’s stress response keeps us attuned and alert when necessary, unnecessarily high stress levels will do more harm than good. 

Listen to friends, family, or a trusted advisor who may be good at spotting stressful reactions, and most of all trust your own body to tell you when things may be going awry. With these thoughtful tools keeping stress subdued is a snap!