Do You Know the Physical Signs of Stress?
The human body possesses remarkable powers of perception. Subtle indications of your mood and circumstances manifest themselves physically all of the time. For instance, when you are experiencing stress, your body may exhibit signs of this stress in a variety of ways.
Are you familiar with these outward signs? According to EHE doctor Fatima Hussain, when you are feeling very stressed, you may experience chest pain, headaches, anger, anxiety and increased sweating. Furthermore, stress can cause or worsen other problems that you may have. Hussain explains that these include heartburn, fatigue, a diminished appetite, and dwindling energy. Prolonged and elevated stress levels can lead to high blood pressure.
Stress causes heightened levels of cortisol, a hormone that serves a variety of important functions in the body. Cortisol helps to control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation and assist with the creation of memories. It also plays a role in the balance of sodium and water in the body and helps to regulate blood pressure. When you are stressed or panicked, cortisol acts to shut down unnecessary body functions and initiates your fight or flight response. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels can lead to health problems over time.
If you continue to experience stress at a high enough level, it can cause permanent damage. Stress-related illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder are known to trigger changes in the brain and its composition. The brains of individuals who have dealt with higher levels of trauma may have a different gray to white matter ratio. The size and connectivity of the amygdala can also change due to chronic stress. High levels of cortisol can also trigger stem cells to malfunction. This is hugely problematic since the primary role of adult stem cells are to repair the tissue in which they are found and help you heal.
What Can You Do?
What, then, can be done to combat stress? It isn’t always possible to remove ourselves from the situation causing this tension, though that is a good start. Dr. Hussain also recommends regular exercise, which, she explains, “will not only reduce your stress level but also lead to a better mood.” In addition, she emphasizes the importance of practicing relaxation. One great way to do this is by deep breathing with the repetition of a word or phrase. Dr. Hussain also suggests using the progressive muscle relaxation technique. This involves identifying tense muscle groups throughout your body, such as your neck and shoulders. Once you’ve found these points of tension, consciously release it. You should feel a positive shift as you let go of the stress. Lastly, it often helps to retreat to a quiet environment and meditate. Letting your brain rest can help to reduce your stress.
Sometimes, while you’re working hard to ease your stress, it can be difficult not to fixate on the physical manifestations of this tension. This fixation can lead to hypochondria, which only serves to raise stress. Dr. Hussain suggests that you not search the internet and attempt to self-diagnose, as this will likely worsen your anxiety. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of regular check-ups with medical professionals. Raise any concerns you may have with them at that time. In between appointments, put your mind at ease by taking care of yourself as best you can. When you’re feeling anxious about your health, go for a walk, take a deep breath and try to relax. Forcing yourself to think less-anxious thoughts, Dr. Hussain says, is key.
In addition, changing the way you take care of yourself can actually help to combat stress. Exercises like yoga and tai chi, Dr. Hussain explains, are great options. She also encourages the consumption of berries, which are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. For instance, blueberries contain a wealth of antioxidants, which help protect against cognitive weakening and can improve your response to stress. Make sure you eat plenty of vegetables, such as spinach and kale. In addition, drinking low-caffeine green tea has been linked to reduced stress and improved sleep quality.
While it’s not always possible to avoid stressful situations, training yourself to react in a healthy way and properly caring for your body can do wonders for your health. Work to incorporate positive stress responses into your life and you will reap the benefits physically.