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Chronic stress produces real, adverse effects on your mental and physical health. The side effects of stress include everything from putting on a few extra pounds and having difficulty falling asleep, to severe medical complications like heart disease and ulcers.
At CityHealth Urgent Care, we take your health seriously. And that includes your stress levels, too. We’ve put together this quick guide to give you everything you need to know about stress: what causes it, what it’s doing to your body (both in the short term and over the long term), positive steps that you can take to decrease the effects of stress in your life, and where to turn to for help if you think it is getting the better of your health.
In its simplest form, stress is the body’s way of reacting to certain stimuli. Stress is a series of biochemical and physiological changes designed to help you, not hurt you.
Everyday life contains small amounts of stress, which are not dangerous to your health. The stress of hearing your alarm go off is what gets you out of bed in the morning, for example. This stress is short-lived (the alarm only goes off for a few seconds), and productive (you get up and start your day).
Stress can become a problem; however, when you’re subjected to very high amounts of stress for very long periods.
Workplace stress, for example, can have terrible side effects for your health because you’re experiencing the difficulty of a stressful workplace while you’re at work, and probably feeling stressed about work when you come home, too.
While everyone has different triggers or past experiences that impact their stress levels, the most common stress sources are:
While some stresses are immediate and unavoidable (like being chased or startled by a loud noise), there are many stressful situations that you can avoid, such as:
There are both short-term and long-term responses to stress. Short term effects come on quickly and dissipate reasonably soon as well, usually after time or when the stressful stimuli stop. Long term effects aren’t nearly as noticeable as short term effects, but they’re generally much more harmful.
Short term stressors result in you experiencing the “fight or flight” response, such as:
– a racing heartbeat and increased blood pressure; you can feel your heart pounding
– sweating, including clammy palms
– shortness of breath or hyperventilating
– sudden change in appetite
– dry mouth
– trembling or shaking
– grinding or clenching teeth
– dizziness, confusion, or trouble focusing
– tense, twitching muscles
– upset stomach, diarrhea, or constipation
– headache or migraine
– difficulty sleeping
– chest pain
These defense mechanisms are courtesy of your sympathetic nervous system and evolved to help you flee danger. However, your nervous system is not quite as evolved as the stresses you face every day. It can’t tell the difference between a balloon mortgage payment or a hungry lion, which is why you may feel the same sensations at your bank statement that you would at a changing bear.
You’ll probably notice a sudden upset stomach, sweaty palms, and dry mouth. What you may not see is a growing ulcer, hypertension, or worsening depression.
While short term stress is unpleasant, it’s short term unpleasantness is designed to inspire action. However, long-term stress is such a tremendous health problem because it worsens many other health problems.
Long term side effects of stress include:
You won’t remove stress from your life altogether, but you can learn to manage it. When you know how to manage your stress, you’ll lead a healthier and happier life.
It’s important to keep a positive attitude and come to terms with things that you can’t change. If you are a Type-A personality, learn to let go and remember that becoming angry or defensive just leads to more stress.
Several techniques can help you relax. Exercises such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and Tai Chi return balance to your body and quiet the mind.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to counteract the harmful physical side effects of stress and to help your body prepare to deal with stress. Exercise also releases endorphins, which can elevate your mood and reduce stress levels.
Eating healthy gives your body the nutrition it needs to cope with stress and tackle your daily life. A regular eating schedule (especially coupled with a regular sleeping and waking schedule) can help mitigate sleep disturbances caused by stress.
Managing your time can reduce day-to-day stress, such as the stress caused by running late or procrastinating. Limiting your time on social media is also important if it is a stressor, and be aware that looking at screens (like your phone, tablet, laptop, or TV) before bed can disturb your sleep cycle.
If you lead a stressful life, as many do, it’s even more important to prioritize self-care. Set limits and learn how to turn down requests that will cause you stress. Make time for interest and hobbies outside of work and family responsibilities.
Remember that your body needs time to heal after stressful events, so make sure that you get enough rest, take a day off when you need it, and use your vacation time.
If you have a lot of stress in your life, you may be more susceptible to substance use disorders like drug and alcohol addiction. If you feel that stress causes you to drink or use illicit substances as a coping mechanism, find support. Spend time with those you love and consider counseling to work through your feelings.
At CityHealth Urgent Care, we care about your health just as much as you do, and that includes helping you manage the effects of stress.
If you are concerned about the impact stress has on your health, or fear you’re suffering from stress-related health issues like ulcers, heart problems, headaches, or worsening chronic health issues, make an appointment or book a virtual visit today.