How stress eats you in more ways than one

We all know the sinking feeling of dread when we realize we might have put everything off to the last minute and are now left feeling bombarded by all the tasks left to be completed.

We might be running around frantically doing a little bit of everything or we might be micromanaging each thing accordingly until everything is done. Everyone reacts differently to stress.  You may be better at dealing with stress in the workplace but much worse at handling stress at home, or perhaps it’s the other way around.  Perhaps, you rarely get stressed or maybe you feel like you’re constantly overwhelmed. Because stress is so universal and felt by everyone, an important question to ask is just how does stress affect our mental and physical health?

Stress is an evolutionary trait.

It’s a response to threats in order to aid in our survival. In a way, it’s an alarm clock to wake us up, so that we can pay attention if we want to live! Predatory animals, poisonous vegetation, and lack of food and shelter once threatened our ancestors. This is why biologically; stress is typically referred to as our “fight or flight” response. Our pupils dilate, heart rate and blood pressure increase, more blood goes to our muscles, hormone levels increase and we become much more alert. This enables us to run away from predators or can cause us to tense up, becoming paralyzed with fear.
You’re thinking, “Ok, this makes sense for hunter gatherers and maybe the people on Survivor, but what about how stress affects us in 2016?”

Because stress is more complicated than it ever was, it has different effects on modern man.

Stress is now considered to be chronic, being experienced by 1 in 5 Americans, and that means a constant increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and hormone levels (to name just a few.) In fact, 53% of Americans reported personal health problems as a source of stress in 2011! What this also means is that we are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension and mental health.
Stress can also manifest directly onto the body. Muscle spasms describe a constriction of a muscle or several that run along the neck or back. Most muscle spasms are stress and anxiety related, and can be incredibly debilitating if one cannot release the muscle. Imagine, massaging your tight shoulders after a stressful day at work and experiencing a sensation of having rocks in them. This is just a taste of what people with muscle spasms feel when stressed. Treatment includes prescribed muscle relaxant, creams, and trigger-point injections.
Another quite common example of a physical display of stress is stress related acne. Stress caused by upcoming exams, work deadlines and even holiday parties can have a direct effect on the health of your skin. Too much stress can cause us to miss a few hours of sleep, a day at the gym and maybe indulge in unhealthy foods. All this can contribute to acne.  In fact, too much stress causes an increase in cortisol, a stress hormone that increases the amount of skin’s oil production.
Stress is a big contributor to mental health issues. Anxiety and depression are very closely linked to high levels of stress. This can be crippling for those in high stress work environments, poverty, dealing with other health issues and those struggling with interpersonal problems in relationships. A stressor may begin as an indirect factor, but it may soon spiral into a major cause of anxiety and depression.  A mild case of this, for example, would be a decrease in time and energy from stress at work that would in turn cause a person to spend less time doing things they love and things that people take for granted like spending time with their loved ones, exercising, relaxing, cooking, going shopping, etc. This would then cause a drop in happiness, motivation and overall mood. These new feelings alone could spiral into a depression. It’s easy to see how being stressed at work (or anywhere) can turn into a vicious cycle.
How to deal with stress is a whole other issue, which alone can be stressful to think of.
What does one do if they don’t know how to relax? And how do we cope if the amount of responsibilities continues to remain constant, or worse, continues to increase? What could be a solution to this pain we feel, the pain of life’s constant expectations? You may be thinking, “My god, does it ever end?,” and my response to you is, it can, if you want it to.

The way in which people cope varies.

While for some implementing some exercise or even some meditation can prove to be very beneficial, not everyone is so open-minded, and some won’t even make the time. When it comes to stress, one of the most essential things to consider is how do we go about our lives in the first place? If everything is rushed, perhaps there is a better way to organize your tasks and your time. If you feel overwhelmed and exhausted from being around work and/or people, maybe isolating yourself from all of that by being alone, for a short while, could be of help. (Hell, even a bathroom break will do!) While there is no answer that is a one-size-fits-all, consider the small changes that can ease the way in which you go about your life. It may be as simple as finding a good task management program or app. Or it may be as serious as finding a doctor to speak to or even a therapist. One thing that I allow (keyword here!) myself to do when I get home from work is to lay down on my amazing foam mattress. I find that if I lay down for at least 5-10 minutes immediately after coming home, then I feel like I can get that breather I’ve been dying for. It makes getting up to make dinner all the more easier, and it makes staying up late to finish up my work a lot less daunting.

Stress is a survival mechanism; so don’t let it kill you.

You can’t forget to enjoy your life entirely! Reclaim your life and your power by committing to living differently by implementing new routines to help you feel on top of things and most importantly, to help bring you the balance you so earnestly require.

The key to life is balance.

For every stressful thing you have to do, make the time to do something you enjoy. Staying calm and staying collected will surely help you not only perform better but feel better too.
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