We all experience stress at one time or another. Whether it’s work deadlines or family disharmony causing your cortisol levels to rise, stress can have a real effect on your mind and body. Stress manifests as a result of everyday annoyances (e.g. being stuck in a traffic jam) but can also be the result of instances of trauma (e.g. divorce or a death in the family). We’re all built to respond to moments of stress, but when stress levels are constant, you’re likely to notice physical repercussions.
When we’re dealing with life’s daily stressors and anxieties, it‘s sometimes difficult to tell when stress has risen to an unhealthy level. Here are some of the dangerous ways that stress manifests physically along with the best (and worst) ways to cope and manage stress.
How to deal with stress
How do we manage stress levels without relying on unhealthy methods? Here are a few coping mechanisms:
Get physical. Exercise is a well-known way to combat stress. It has positive effects on overall health and boosts endorphin levels.
Get professional help. Whether you choose traditional talk therapy or engage in animal or art therapy — both of which have been shown to notably lower stress levels — therapy is a tried and true method for dealing with all types of stress.
Engage in routine leisure time. In other words, finding the right work-life balance is critical to managing stress levels. We all need routine downtime to recharge. We can’t avoid stress altogether, but having hobbies, enjoying family time, and incorporating soothing self-care routines in our daily lives can help with stress management.
Spend time outdoors. New research has shown that time spent in nature has important health benefits, including helping with stress reduction.
Meditate. Try downloading a meditation app to help clear your mind and center yourself. Or, find a relaxing meditation-style yoga class if you prefer to stay off your smartphone.
Indulge. Keep a bar of dark chocolate around and treat yourself from time to time. Did you know that eating dark chocolate has been linked to a reduction in stress and inflammation?
Are you feeling wiped out from the rigors of childrearing? Maybe you’ve been experiencing a higher workload at the office and find yourself struggling to handle the increased volume of tasks. Stressful moments occur in all of our lives, so why does it matter how we handle and cope with them?
Over time, high stress levels can have a detrimental impact on our physical health. Extensive research shows that prolonged periods of elevated cortisol levels may impact the body in more ways than one. The effects of stress aren’t limited to acute reactions like headaches and irritability. Down the line, those who have trouble coping with stress may experience ill effects on their overall health.
A 2019 study from the Galvan Institute of Medical Research showed that individuals are more likely to gain weight when stressed because of increased levels of insulin produced by the body. Stress also has an impact on our gut bacteria. When our gut bacteria is out of whack, it may have an adverse effect on our immune system. Research from Ohio State University says that this might explain why those with diseases like IBS experience flare-ups during periods of elevated stress.
Stress may also have an impact on fertility in men and women. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, men in their study who reported feeling stressed were found to have low-quality sperm. In women, stress may harm reproduction function and, in particular, has been shown to have adverse effects on the ovaries.
The most severe effect of high stress levels is the increased risk of cardiovascular illness. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed that individuals with high blood pressure experiencing work stress and sleep issues were much more likely to die of heart disease than their non-stressed, healthy counterparts. A 2018 study from the European Society of Cardiology demonstrated that those with high-stress careers are 48 percent more likely to experience heart issues like atrial fibrillation, compared to those working in less stressful environments.
When stressful moments in your life arise, avoid coping in harmful ways like overeating, skipping meals, lashing out in anger or violence, oversleeping, withdrawing, and shutting down. Try one of the above coping methods instead.
If the stress you’re experiencing seems insurmountable, don’t be afraid to speak to a professional. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).
Written by: Steph Coelho