In our previous article on anxiety and stress, we discussed the many ways you can work to alleviate or at the very least, reduce your anxiety. Now, let us discuss how stress affects you and what it can to do to your body, should it prolong. It is our hope that having this basic understanding of stress and anxiety will help you build on eliminating it.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
This human body’s response to environmental factors has many benefits. It helps us to keep going, face challenges, and overcome danger. This is due to the body’s built-in “fight or flight” which we react to when we are confronted with potential danger.
While occasional triggering of the fight or flight response has positive effects, prolonged engagement of this state can lead to a condition called chronic stress and it happens when a person goes through a series of prolonged challenges without any relief.
This condition is dangerous because the body’s fight or flight response is active all the time, which can subsequently disturb our system’s internal balance and can lead to wear and tear in the body – both emotional and physical.
Effects of Stress on the Body
Chronic stress is not something to ignore. As this disorder prolongs, more damage can occur in your body, both physically and mentally. According to the American Psychological Association, the following transformations can occur:
Changes the Function of the Nervous System
This is because chronic stress alters the brain’s neurons by causing too much cortisol to be created. Cortisol exists naturally in the brain, but too much of it can disrupt the synapses (the electrical connections) between neurons and as a result, cognitive processing can be inhibited.
In other words, an abnormal abundance of cortisol can cause degradation of memory since the connections (of the synapses) equate to the transfer of information and if those connections are broken, so is the transfer of information.
The effects of chronic stress are obvious when a person experiences difficulty in retaining and processing information (although there could be other factors involved as well). This can subsequently result in decision issues as well.
Anxiety can cause the muscles to be in a state of alertness, which is due to our fight or flight condition. While this helps us to become more active in stressful conditions, it can lead to chronic (persisting) pain in the long run.
This is because chronic stress causes tension in the body. If the muscles continue to be in this state for too long, it can lead to stiffness, particularly in the areas of the neck, shoulders and head. Sometimes pain can be felt in the chest, but chest pains can be a sign of something even more significant and should not be taken lightly. People experiencing muscle pain from stress are also prone to migraines and stress-related headaches.
When in this fight or flight condition, the heart and the blood vessels work harder to provide more oxygen to the body, in turn producing stress hormones. This exposes your body to unhealthy, elevated levels of adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, and happens so that the body can make quicker decisions in case of danger.
If the condition becomes chronic, the heart and blood vessels need to work even harder on a continuous basis; subsequently, the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases increases. Additionally, the constant presence of stress hormones in the blood can enhance the production of cholesterol.
Secondary effects of stress-related heart disease could result from overeating, lack of exercise and the potential to drink and smoke more.
Affects the Respiratory and Digestive Systems
The respiratory system in the human body supplies oxygen to all parts of the body. In case of stress, the heart rate increases which, in turn, pushes the lungs to supply oxygenated blood to the body. This causes shortness of breath and rapid breathing. For people who do not have any respiratory condition, shortness of breath may not be a problem but it can be a serious concern for someone who has asthma or some other respiratory condition. Research also suggests that chronic stress can trigger respiratory conditions like asthma. This is because of a continuously overworked respiratory system.
Stress is also closely linked with the digestive system. It not only gives you “butterflies” but can influence the overall health of your entire digestive system. Since stress increases metabolic activity, the processes taking place in your digestive system also speed up. As a result, it can lead to many conditions that are associated with improper digestion. This includes acid reflux, vomiting, nausea, and inconsistent bowel movements.
While some amount of stress is important to keep you going, too much can have detrimental effects on the human body. There is an abundance of ways to control stress, but in a nutshell, make sure you eat the proper stress-reducing foods, get a good seven-eight hours of sleep, exercise regularly and seek medical attention if necessary.
Some people have or will have experienced stress and anxiety at least once in their lifetime. For others, it may be a frequent occurrence. Maybe it’s because of ongoing issues at home or on the job or it may be physiological, as you might be suffering from a lack of certain chemicals in the brain.
The quick pace of modern times has also made this problem a more prevalent one, especially now during this COVID crisis. More people are now victims of stress and its consequences. Here, we will try to help you with a small yet effective guide on how to deal with stress and we will be applying some suggestions that you usually won’t see on psychology websites when dealing with depression.
Longtime stress can lead to more hazardous health conditions, such as anxiety attacks and depression, so it is best if your situation can be nipped in the bud as soon as possible. Let’s take a look at what you can do to help alleviate your anxieties.
How Can I Cope?
Although you might think it is the end of the world, it is not. Below are some suggestions that have been proven to work. All it takes is a simple tryout and then you can see which ones will work for you. The idea is to find something that will stop you from worrying and subsequently give your body some rest from feeling anxious, which can lead to numerous physical issues. You can stop it and if there is one factor to emphasize, it is don’t give up!
Meditation Helps in Any Situation
One woman explained how she was able to feel calmer by just going into a quiet room, sitting down, and closing her eyes. She was able to clear her mind and just relax. It is a natural remedy to relieve the tension that builds up during the day. This is meditation and it is a common method many people use to simply unwind.
Some people may go a step further and put on some soft music. If you are at work, take a break, go somewhere quiet, just close your eyes and clear your mind. Too crowded at work? Make a mental note that you will meditate at home tonight (and every night if you can).
There are lots of online health websites that provide complete instructions on the proper way to meditate. Have you tried yoga? Whatever technique you use, give it a shot! Your mind and body will thank you!
What Did You Accomplish Today?
Here’s a nifty idea that many people do not think about. Build a To-Do list of daily accomplishments!
Having a daily list of things you want to achieve not only gives you the momentum to reach that goal (or goals) but also gives you something to look forward to.
Once completed, you will feel a sense of achievement, which lifts your spirits and helps you to forget or at least diminish your concerns about your negative issues. It can also give you additional self-esteem. Overall, achieving results daily will exhilarate you.
What daily items can you put down? What are your passions?
One unemployed woman who was inundated with financial issues, including getting letters from the IRS for defaulting on her installment loan applied this therapeutic system and it helped her to remain more tranquil with her life’s daily issues.
One of her lists was to create a dinner for close friends whom she invited over to her house for a dinner and social gathering. She loved cooking, so that fit right in. This not only gave her something to look forward to but put a smile on her face knowing that the dinner she would be cooking would continue to a nice gathering of friends afterward.
Other daily routines she set her mind on were to jog every morning, then stop in the local bagel store for a bite and coffee, but she didn’t stop there.
When she returned home, she would go through hundreds of photographs that were taken of her family throughout the years and digitally scan them so that she could have a digital recording of all the fun times she had when her children were young. She would then pick out the best ones and email selected ones to her children daily.
The above example is just one of an indefinite number of things you can do if you put your mind to it. Just find things you like doing and set them as your daily goals! We’re sure many interesting ideas can come to mind.
Whatever your passion, make a note of it and look back at your list periodically. Maybe you’d like to change it? Never give up hope!
Taking the Accomplishments Even Further!
The above does sound appetizing, doesn’t it? Just the thought of achieving you’re sought-after desires is enough to make anyone feel happier!
But why stop at a daily list? How about a weekly to-do list? Can you jot down things you want to get done by the end of each week? Did you want to fix those kitchen cabinets or paint the living room by week’s end or maybe go to that Broadway show you’ve been thinking about for the last three weeks? Perhaps a weekend getaway? That broken bicycle is just waiting for you to make it work again. Does your backyard need some flower planting?
One person said he started a Facebook group about country music. How many likes can you get each month? Build on it and check it off as you complete each task toward your accomplishments.
Wait a minute! If we have a weekly bucket list, what about a monthly one? Stressful times at work? Go ahead and add job items you’d like to complete. You can even mix and match things to do between the job and home each day. Write it down and check it off!
If you want to do some things to look forward to in the future, one suggestion is to do some web searches for vacations or pick up some booklets at your local travel agency. Where do you want to go? How about a cruise?
One person said he had the following things piling up and so he set aside a Saturday to take care of them all:
Speak to a contractor about installing a deck in the backyard
Oil change for the car
Open a new bank account for his business
Go shopping with the wife (yes, some men despise this, but hey, it’s just another daily bucket list to check off as an accomplishment!)
Complete some business items on the computer so that they are ready for Monday
He woke up early that Saturday and asked the contractor to come at 8:00 AM, then he brought his car into the shop for the oil change and walked across the street to open the bank account.
When he came home, the wife was waiting for them to go shopping, and shopping they did. The man was home early enough to complete his business items and still had time to relax for the rest of the night.
Oh, what a nice set of accomplishments that was! Maybe they’re not the most fun things for you to do on a Saturday, but it sure makes you feel good that you completed them all, doesn’t it?
So don’t put off what you want to do tomorrow and do it today. As Santa says, make a list and check it twice! But don’t wait until Christmas to get it done. Do it today!
There is nothing wrong with fantasizing about better times or thinking about things you might like to do in the future, so long as you keep it in perspective and don’t lose sight of the fact that it is not your reality just yet.
It has been proven that for some people, thinking about fun and happy times before or in the future can calm your nerves and make you feel less anxious, even if it is just for a short while.
Are You Angry?
Anger can no doubt bring along stress and anxiety. One thing that should be done is not to keep that anger within yourself. Talk to someone about it. If they can’t help, at least you have an outlet to vent your frustrations.
Abraham Lincoln stated that when he would get angry, he would write a letter to the person he is annoyed with, but he would never send it out because just the fact of writing his frustrations down was enough to quell his agitations.
Besides letting it out, some people turn it into a positive factor and (as mentioned above) will do things to make their lives better, even if it is for a day that they ordinarily would not have done. One person stated that when he would get angry or stressed, he would clean the house, whether that be just ordinary cleaning or throwing out stuff he had accumulated for years and didn’t need anymore. This was his way of dealing with anxiety.
Try dropping your pride and make up with the person you are yelling at or at least work out a compromise. You’ll be surprised how much better you will feel. You can go back and pick up your pride tomorrow.
The Right Foods Can Make a Difference
So maybe you’re feeling a little better now? If the answer is yes or no, let’s discuss the most natural way to diminish stress. Without further discussion, here is a list of some of the most anti-anxiety foods you can eat.
Zinc deficiency in the body can bring several psychiatric disorders, and stress is one of them. You can maintain the appropriate levels of zinc by adding cashew nuts to your diet. Cashew nuts can be used in different recipes. They can also be consumed exclusively as a snack.
According to a research study conducted by the University of Bern in Switzerland, the use of dark chocolate can alleviate the effects of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which are associated with anxiety-prone conditions.
Dark chocolate also has antioxidants, which help fight off free radicals – the elements that may be responsible for heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. It contains a variety of minerals, but this chocolate with less than 70% cocoa contains dairy and sugar. Excessive use of it might lead to weight gain.
This spring vegetable is high in folic acid, which is considered good for cognitive health and stress conditions. Use steamed asparagus in salads. You can also roast asparagus stalks for a crispier texture.
If you are experiencing a stressful situation for a long time, then your immune system will also bear the brunt of it. When using different food items to relieve the consequences of stress, garlic can come handy in by boosting your immune system, since it is packed with many antioxidants. Garlic is an all-season vegetable and can become a part of nearly every meal.
Make these a part of your daily lifestyle which will help you to feel happier and more stress-free. In our next section, we will explore how physical actions along with the proper medical assistance can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and remain calm.