Stress is one thing we have all experienced at some point in our lives, and will most likely experience at some point again in our future. This one small six letter word has the ability to make such a drastic impact on one’s quality of life. Stress can be triggered from such a variety of things; taking a test, speaking in public, losing a job, ending a relationship, etc. Even small, daily activities, such as going to school, shopping in stores, talking to peers, and ordering food at a restaurant may trigger stress within some people. Sometimes stress can be good; it can keep us motivated, push us towards our goals, and it indicates that we care about a certain thing. However, stress can also be extremely detrimental to one’s life and overall happiness. Continuous negative stress on the body and mind can actually cause physical illness and has the ability to eliminate all joy from a person’s life.
Scientific studies have revealed many of the harmful effects stress is capable of having on the human body. Yes, it is natural to feel stressed in certain situations or when confronted with certain dilemmas. In these times of stress, our bodies release hormones and break down energy stores, allowing us to mentally and physically prepare for whatever stressful situation we are faced with. But what happens when we let the stress take over our bodies? What happens when the stress is no longer present for a given moment, but instead, for weeks and months on end? What happens when we are no longer able to enjoy our day to day lives because the overwhelming amount of stress we feel has prevented us from doing so. Well, in this case, our bodies become worn down as we are in a constant state of alarm; as a result, various illnesses can develop. If we look at each system of the body individually, we can see how each can be adversely impacted by long-term, persistent stress.
For example, within the musculoskeletal system, continuous stress causes the body to respond by tensing of the muscles. Persistent muscle tensions can lead to migraines, back pain, and muscle atrophy. Long-term stress also causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and can increase our risk of heart attack or stroke. Proper functioning of the gastrointestinal system is also significantly altered due to ongoing stress. Specifically, stress can alter our gut microbiome, which in turn affects our mood and ability to think clearly. It can also trigger heartburn, esophagus and bowel spasms, or acid reflux. Stress can also weaken the lining of our intestines, thus compromising our bodies ability to properly absorb nutrients. Bacteria can then slip through the weakened intestine lining, enter the body, and cause other illnesses, only adding to the stress demand placed on our bodies. Thus, it is evident that stress can have a number of adverse affects on a person’s physical body.
Not only does excessive stress affect our physical health, but it also takes a toll on us mentally. We can experience brain fog, lose motivation as a result of our energy being drained, and can even enter states of depression and anxiety. We may become irritable, nervous, and moodier than usual. Further, as our cognitive abilities become less effective, we are more likely to make poor decisions and engage in unproductive behavior such as drinking, smoking, and over-eating.
Being able to acknowledge the things that cause us stress is extremely important. When we are able to identify these triggers, we can try to deal with them in a productive way, instead of letting these situations control us. This is one reason why self-reflection and emotional awareness is imperative for achieving goals and feelings of self-satisfaction. When we feel stress upon us, we must approach this in a proactive manner and try to calm ourselves down. Without self-reflection and monitoring daily stress levels, stress can build up and persist for an extended period of time until it begins to manifest as other health issues.
Many people find exercise, meditation, or listening to music to be therapeutic. Sometimes even just a walk outside to get fresh air can help us clear our minds and unload that burden of stress we feel on our shoulders. Try reading a book to give your mind a break from the current situation you are in and take your mind to a new world. Sometimes a small break is all we need; we are then able to return to the stressful situation with a clear mind and new perspective, ready to face it head-on.
You could also try to journal your feelings or talk to a friend or family member. It's important that we are able to identify people who we trust and value; having a support system to help you cope with stress is very critical to getting through difficult times. Also, as obvious as it may sound, we need sleep. Without enough sleep, even the littlest things can build up and add to our levels of stress, and sometimes this is enough just to send us over the tipping point. Adequate sleep allows the body to recover, process the day's events, and reestablish a sense of balance.
Another piece of advice I would like to offer is to laugh. Sometimes we get so caught up in the moment and let the stress rip all enjoyment from our day. If you see this happening, I encourage you to find anything that will make you laugh to bring yourself back to reality and look at life’s bigger picture. Look up some good jokes or watch your favorite comedy movie - do something that will remind you that even during stressful times, life should be filled with enjoyment and happiness.
I know life can get stressful, but always remember to stop, breathe, and try to engage in an activity or thought that will in any way help you to calm down and deal with the situation at hand. There will always be something in life that causes us stress. Identifying these triggers early on in life will help us to become more efficient in handling stressful situations in the future. I guarantee that being able to control the way stress affects you will make it easier for you to achieve your goals and allow you to live a happier life.