Everyone may feel anxious from time-to-time, especially when work or home life become hectic. Stress is a natural part of your body’s response to demands it might face, including significant life challenges, such as giving a public speech, loss of a loved one, or financial hardship such as losing a job. The feeling of stress is the reaction of your body to any changes that require an adjustment. These reactions can be on the physical, mental, or emotional levels. Even though these responses are a natural response, long-term stress may negatively affect your health in a variety of ways if not resolved.
Some facts about stress you may not know:
Stress impacts everyone in some way.
Even though some people may appear to be cool as a cucumber when faced with a challenging situation, they may still be internally stressed. A stress response may be a short-term response due to a one-time event, such as the rapid need to douse a burning building with water. Stress can also be long-term and sustained, such as the ongoing negative situations of being in a bad marriage. Whatever the situation, it is important to note that you are not the only person who experiences stress. Discussing your feelings with those around you can be highly beneficial and help you feel supported through the stress duration. In fact, they may even relate to what you are feeling.
Can some stress be beneficial?
Although it may not seem like it, certain stresses can actually be beneficial.1 When you are faced with a dangerous situation, your body might respond to the stress with physiological responses (a quicker pulse, faster breathing, tense muscles, etc.) to prepare your body to respond.2 All of these functions can help to ensure your survival in a dangerous situation, such as running away from a bear when out hiking.
In non-threatening situations, stress can help to be a motivator. If you are stressed about a job interview, a school exam, or speaking at a public event, stress may help motivate you to prepare for the event by studying or rehearsing ahead of time. The short-term anxiety that you face can help you reap long-term rewards!
Long-term stress can be harmful
While some stress may be beneficial, being consistently anxious over a long period of time can challenge your body and mind and create a state of stressful exhaustion. When you are stressed for a long period of time, your body has a difficult time attempting to return to normal function over and over again. Stress can deplete hormone levels and even stress your cardiovascular and digestive health. Over time, these stressors can help promote serious, chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.3
More importantly, when your body undergoes chronic stress, your immune system function may also begin to suffer. This is because stress triggers the body to release more than usual levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that regulates the immune and the inflammatory response. As a result of increased cortisol in your system, your tissues can become less sensitive to cortisol.4 This essentially means that your body becomes less capable of a healthy inflammatory response, which may end up leading to additional illness.
The good news – recommended ways for you to manage your stress healthfully:
Certain stresses might seem unavoidable while you are going through them, but several methods can help you eliminate long-term stress. Key methods, such as regular exercise and a healthy, plant-based diet, can help manage whole-body health as well as creating a healthier response to stress. Other methods, such as setting clear goals, can help you prioritize tasks and help you to accomplish your career goals while managing stress (that seems to hold you back).
Relaxation activities such as yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises can help clear and refocus your mind. If talking through your anxiety seems to help you reduce your stress levels, confide in family or close friends frequently. Simple actions such as taking a relaxing evening walk or ending your day with reading a few chapters of a good book are also relaxing ways to unwind.
1“5 Things You Should Know About Stress.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml.
2Harvard Health Publishing. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response.
3“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Mar. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037.
4“Home.” RN, www.rn.com/featured-stories/stress-inflammation-immunity/.