How Stress Impacts Your Health?

Stress is a natural reaction to the events we experience daily. It could be triggered by daily events such as running late for a meeting, being stuck in traffic, working on a deadline, prolonged screen hours, meeting everyday responsibilities or could be caused due to transitioning life events like preparing for an examination, getting diagnosed with a disease, war, loss of a loved or moving to a new place for better career opportunities. Short-term stress can be beneficial as it helps you cope with serious situations, and meeting goals but long-term stress also known as chronic stress can have several negative impacts on your health. In this article, we have tried to summarise how chronic stress can harm your health, and how it can be managed.

                                                                                                                           Richa Pande

Let’s begin by understanding what happens to your body when you experience stress. In situations of stress, your body responds to it by releasing hormones that helps you to cope up with the situation that’s causing the stress.  This reaction to stress is also known as “fight-or-flight” response. In our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it acted a survival mechanism that enabled our ancestors to react quickly to life-threatening situations which involved a series of hormonal changes and physiological responses that enabled a person to cope up with the situations. Today, our body react to some triggers in similar manner, but they are not life-threatening. This includes work pressure, personal problems, taking up an exam, etc. If the stress levels stay elevated for longer, then it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. 

Have you noticed changes in your body during a stressful situation, say, when you are delivering a speech in public. Your heartbeat increases, you start breathing heavily, you might start sweating.  This is because during the stressful situations, our body releases stress hormones in the blood stream which causes these changes. If someone experiences continuous stress every day, these hormones are released in their bloodstream for a longer duration, and they can experience health concerns such as fatigue, sleeplessness, weight gain, increased blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure, irritable mood, irregular menstruation, poor sleep, or even in extreme cases anxiety and depression.

Stress can also be bad for your heart health as stress can cause irregular heart rate and rhythm, increased blood pressure, chronic intrinsic inflammation, and reduced blood flow to the heart. These hormonal surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. Prolonged stress can have negative impact on your digestive health as well. It can cause acid reflux, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach aches, heartburn, and can also increase your risk for having ulcers. Stress can also contribute to the build-up of adipose tissue and weight gain by increasing appetite and increasing storage of unused nutrients such as fat. Release of these stress hormones can weaken your immune system and reduce body’s response to infections. Individuals experiencing chronic stress are more susceptible to infections and prolong recovery from an illness or injury. Individuals with chronic stress can also experience behaviours such as overeating, alcohol or drug abuse, and social withdrawal. Stress can also lead to irregular, heavier, or more painful periods in women and can worsen the symptoms of menopause in women.

Tips on Stress Management 

Minimize screen time  

Several studies have linked excessive increased screen with increased levels of stress. Increased screen time can also negatively affect sleep, which may also lead to increased stress levels. Try to limit your screen time and take breaks in between if your need to work on screen for long hours.

Indulge in self-care

Understand that you can’t control all the stress triggers, but you can train yourself to respond towards them. Practice relaxation techniques including deep abdominal breathing, visualizing tranquil scenery, chanting, relaxation baths, massages, spas, and yoga to help you cope up with stress. It has also been found that taking up many responsibilities may leave you feeling overwhelmed, increasing your stress levels. Another way to manage stress is to focus on your priorities and avoid procrastinating as it may hamper your productivity and leave you stressed, negatively impacting your health and sleep quality.

Start being physically active

Physical activity has been found to have a calming effect on individuals experiencing stress. Practicing stretches or taking walks between work hours have been found to be effective against stress.

Nutrition supplements

Micronutrients can play an important role in determining body’s stress response and elevating your mood levels. Some dietary supplements may help reduce stress levels and improve your mood. For example, magnesium plays an important role in determining body’s stress response. Taking magnesium supplements have been found to improve stress levels. Coupled with vitamin B6 supplements, magnesium supplementation works in a better manner.  Make sure your consult a healthcare professional to take recommended dosage of these supplements. 

Maintain a healthy sleep pattern

Your stress levels are closely interlinked with your sleep pattern. Individuals who sleep for less than eight hours have been reported to have more stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours every night. Limit your screen time as increased screen timings are linked with disturbed sleep patterns. It’s also important that you keep a check on the caffeine intake. Caffeine is found in coffee, some chocolates, some soft drinks, and energy drinks. Consuming too much caffeine may worsen and increase feelings of anxiety and harm your sleep pattern. People have different thresholds for caffeine.  It’s recommended to keep caffeine intake under 400 mg per day. 

Spend time with your loved ones

Spend time with your friends and family. Plan recreational activities with them. It has been also found that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends can successfully manage their stress levels. 

Eat a healthy diet 

Ensure that you have a well-balanced diet that has all essential macronutrients and micronutrients. Have foods rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin b complex, and magnesium. Also, include probiotics food in diet and avoid sugary foods.

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