Many people don’t realize it, but stress can have significant effects on your mood, your behavior and your health. With April being Stress Awareness Month, it’s important to understand how stress affects your body, and what you can do to alleviate that stress to avoid negative health effects.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to an outside stimulus. It can manifest itself with both physical and emotional symptoms. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing chemicals and stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. This in itself is not harmful; the problem begins when your body is in a constant state of high-alert without any relaxation, even when the triggering event or danger has subsided.
Ways that stress affects the body
Whether it’s a short-term frustration like a traffic jam, or a major life event like a divorce or job loss, stress can take a toll on our bodies. Though occasional tension is a normal part of life, chronic stress affects your health in more ways that you think.
Heartburn, stomach cramping, and diarrhea can all be caused or worsened by stress. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) due to excessive stress is commonly diagnosed.
People exposed to common cold viruses are less likely to fight off the germs successfully if they have ongoing stress in their lives. Studies have revealed that cells may be less sensitive to a hormone that reduces inflammation, which suggests why stress can be associated with more serious conditions.
The release of the hormone cortisol during times of stress has been linked to cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods. Know your trigger foods, and stock up on healthy snacks to combat cravings during stressful moments.
There is a strong link between weight gain and stress, due to overeating and the secretion of cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been specifically linked to belly fat. It can also enlarge fat cells and increase the amount produced.
Stress can cause hyperarousal (where people are unable to feel sleepy), which leads to insomnia. Try to make your bedroom environment more conducive to sleep by keeping the temperature at 68 degrees, shutting off all “screen time” an hour before bed, and using black-out shutters.
High blood pressure
Elevated blood pressure is another symptom of stress. Tension temporarily constricts your blood vessels and speeds up your heart rate. Once you have managed your stress, this will usually subside.
Stress can set off an acute attack of back pain –– and contribute to ongoing chronic pain –– as a result of the “fight-or-flight” response that tenses your muscles.
If you’re concerned about your stress levels, the physicians at Pomona Valley Health Centers can help. Call today at (888) 686-0773 to schedule an appointment.