How Stress Affects Our Health
In modern times, stress-free living seems like a utopia. While certain stress levels are adaptive responses to circumstances and are considered normal, chronic or intense stress is a state of activation of the nervous system that is associated with several long-term illnesses.
We cannot live in a state of continuous stress or else our body will send us warning signals in the form of illness, injuries, or a general feeling of being unwell. Therefore, keeping ourselves from excess stress is good for our health.
What is stress and what is it for?
Stress is a response that triggers in the brain when it perceives an external demand, such as a deadline for a job or a threat from a robbery from which you must run away. People, because of our capacity for imagination, can also experience stress as a result of mere thoughts, rather than actual events.
“The voice of the ego constantly alters the natural state of wellness of the body. Almost every human body is under a lot of pressure and stress, not because it is threatened by some external factor, but by the internal action of the mind.”
Acute stress, which is produced by a particular stimulus that we must solve puts our body in a state of activation. This allows us to react faster and with more energy, more focus, etc. It creates a tension that prepares us for action.
However, chronic conditions make this activation permanent, causing a constant flow of stress hormones which ends up wasting our energy. Our hormones are out of balance and this ends up deteriorating our overall health.
Effects of stress on health
To continue, we will name the main effects of this state of pressure and mental strain on our health. Although we must be clear that they are mainly generated by a confluence of factors.
- Depression and anxiety: chronic stress can cause long-lasting states of depression and anxiety due to a hormonal imbalance and the waste of energy it involves.
- Skin problems and hair loss: skin rashes like acne or eczema may be caused by continuous stress. Other conditions such as atopic dermatitis or psoriasis are exacerbated and worsened. Besides this, it can cause excessive hair loss, which in some cases may lead to complete baldness.
- Menstrual problems: stress is closely related to hormones, whose prolonged imbalance can cause menstrual problems, from intensely painful periods to irregularities in the menstrual cycle; in severe cases menstruation may even disappear.
- Digestive problems: stress alters the functioning of the digestive system. It makes digestion very difficult; the typical “nothing is sitting well with me.” It deregulates the intestinal transit and is also closely related to the onset of stomach ulcers because it increases the production of digestive acids that enhance these problems.
- Sleep problems: as we’ve all experienced at some point, stressful situations prevent sleep or make us wake up in the middle of the night without being able to go back to sleep. Problems with insomnia are not only negative themselves, but they pose extra wear and tear because the inability to sleep well affects the performance of all tasks during daytime hours.
- Arterial and heart problems: pressure and prolonged mental fatigue is related to serious diseases such as hypertension and coronary heart disease; although these effects are long term, they are really serious and should show us how necessary it is to reduce stress.
- Weight problems: often stressful states encourage us to eat compulsively, which adds to the brain failing to correctly perceive the signs that we are satisfied. That is why stress is related to obesity and even diabetes.
What can you do to reduce stress
Depending on the situation that generates it and the tendency for anxiety of each person, stress can be very difficult to eradicate completely. However, there are always things we can do to reduce it as much as we can.
- Doing sports is a great ally against stress. Practicing any sport lowers tension and releases energy that would otherwise remain within us and erode our resources. The simple act of walking two or three times a week will make a big difference, although doing a more intense sport will be more effective.
- Another one of the most important aspects to consider when dealing with stress is diet. A healthy and balanced diet, especially rich in omega 3 fatty acids (like those found in fish), helps reduce stress, as a well-nourished body is a better regulated body.
- The practice of relaxing activities such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga or psychological relaxation techniques are very beneficial to minimize stress. Sometimes finding time for yourself, taking a swim, walking … makes a difference.
- Surrounding ourselves with our loved ones and people who offer psychological support during hard times or those that generate anxiety in us is one of the essential aspects to managing stress. After an afternoon with a good friend or family member who makes you feel welcome, your stress levels decrease considerably. Moreover, it is scientifically proven that physical contact and displays of affection improve the health of people suffering from anxiety or depression.