Your body’s nervous system lets you know you’re in danger by releasing stress hormones. Cortisol and adrenaline shock your body into emergency mode. For a brief moment, your body becomes stronger and hyper-focused. Once the threat has passed, your body returns to normal.
Stress is the body’s natural way of protecting you - for a little while. This is called the fight-or-flight response, in which your body prepares to fight or flee from the threat.
Stress can be chronic
Some pressure or strain typically causes stress. This pressure can be physical, like being overwhelmed with work or being chased by a bear; emotional such as the experience of grief or losing someone you love; or psychological, like a phobia. When this pressure or strain does not dissipate, and your body’s stress response is always “switched on”, you experience chronic stress.
Where everyday stress is one of your body’s defence mechanisms, chronic stress disrupts your body’s ability to self-regulate and regenerate.
What is it doing to your body?
Stress causes your blood vessels to constrict and your muscles to become tense. This forces the heart to pump faster, which leads to higher blood pressure. While the body can recover from everyday stress, the same cannot be said under chronic stress.
Although research doesn’t prove that stress is a direct cause of long-term high blood pressure, poor stress management can lead to harmful behaviours such as smoking, binge eating unhealthy food, and substance abuse, increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke. It can also cause havoc to your immune, digestive, and reproductive systems, rewire the brain leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, and even speed up the ageing process.
If left unchecked, stress can be harder on the body than harsh physical labour. Chronic stress is the root cause of multiple comorbid illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, autoimmune diseases, and some types of cancer.
What can you do about it?
The good news is that managing stress is not an impossible task. Healthy habits can help lower stress levels and lower your health risks. Here’s how you can do it:
- Exercise: Regular exercise can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and strengthen your heart by training it to pump more efficiently. Exercise also releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical.
- Breathe: Deep breathing or meditation for a few minutes daily can help calm you. A simple method to practice breathing is to gently place a hand on your stomach to feel your abdomen expand as you inhale actively and contract as you exhale.
- Rest: Not getting enough rest or sleep can affect your mood, impair judgment, and cause brain fog. It may help to discipline yourself to set your phone aside before bedtime or to take short naps during the day.
- Laugh: Relaxing with friends and loved ones, watching a comedy, and just laughing over silly things can boost your mood and make you feel better. It also signals to your brain not to take things too seriously.
- Journal: Taking time to practice self-care and analyse your day can help you express yourself, gain perspective, and prioritise tasks so that you can focus on time and energy selectively.
- Therapy: Speaking to a mental health professional can teach you healthy coping mechanisms and how to let go of stressors. It’s a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and overcome stressors.
Stress is a normal part of life, but it’s up to you to take steps to manage it before it wreaks irreversible havoc on your life.
This article was brought to you by Naluri’s Mental Health Coaches. Naluri empowers you to develop healthy lifestyle habits, achieve meaningful health outcomes, and be healthier and happier through personalised coaching, structured programmes, self-guided lessons, and health tools and devices. Download the Naluri App today or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on utilising digital health coaching and therapy to become a happier, healthier you.