The modern world is a stressful place. Seriously, think about how much information you have to process and how many tasks you have to manage each day.
If you’re like me, you have at least three calendars and several paper planners to keep track of everything you’re supposed to get done.
All that responsibility can lead to a ton of stress. Add that to the other things you have going on in your life and those feelings of overwhelm and anxiety can start to build up quickly.
The effects of stress can have a serious impact on your life. Too much stress could be stopping you from losing weight. I’ll explain more below.
Before we start talking about ways to cope and overcome those feelings, you need to first understand what stress is.
What Is Stress, Exactly?
Strictly speaking, stress is a chemical and emotional response to certain stimuli in your life. Your body reacts to certain situations in different ways.
When you watch your favourite TV show, you will experience happiness and amusement. Same as when you see all of the progress you made on your fitness journey, you will feel proud and accomplished.
But when you encounter situations that are potentially dangerous, this causes your body to produce more adrenaline to heighten your awareness and kick in your “fight or flight” instinct.
In addition to adrenaline, your body also produces a chemical called cortisol.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone which activates your “fight or flight” instinct. Your body produces cortisol any time you’re experiencing stress, whether it be because of working out, a busy day at work or surviving on 5 hours of sleep.
When it isn’t present in excess, cortisol is good because it keeps inflammation down, increases your blood sugar, boosts your energy so that you can handle stress better, etc.
However, because of the stressful way we live these days, cortisol is produced in excess which can cause sudden weight gain, muscle weakness, diabetes and other medical health issues.
So, basically, stress is completely natural in small doses. But when it’s overpowering and continuous, that natural response isn’t always a good thing.
What Causes Stress?
Ultimately, the things that cause you stress will be unique to your personality. For example, some people find public speaking terrifying and stressful while others find it exciting and fun.
Think about the things, activities, and events that make you feel stressed as opposed to making you feel happy and uplifted.
Some of the most common causes of stress are surprisingly simple:
- Feeling overworked
- Not liking your job
- Dealing with discrimination
- Experiencing relationship turmoil
- Struggling with finances
- Emotional trauma
If you’re experiencing anything that might seem like stress, the more you can understand and identify what’s causing those feelings, the easier it will be to cope.
Remember, stress is natural. Everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. Some of us just feel more stress more often than others.
Can Stress Ever Be a Good Thing?
I’ll be honest. Most of the time, stress can feel like a bad thing. It takes a toll on your body and can leave you feeling less like yourself in a matter of minutes. That said, some stress can actually be good and spur you into doing things that you otherwise wouldn’t.
So, when is stress a good thing? It’s great when it helps you get out of a bad situation. It’s helpful when it gives you the adrenaline (think energy boost) to do something that scares you.
Stress can be great when you’re able to overcome obstacles that you otherwise struggle with.
In most of those instances, stress is short-lived and dissipates as soon as you accomplish certain tasks. As long as your feelings of stress are short-lived, it can be beneficial.
How to Tell if You’re Experiencing Stress
If you’re trying to find ways to overcome feelings of stress, you need to be able to recognize the signs that you’re under stress in the first place. These can vary from person to person and may end up changing over time or based on the situation you’re experiencing.
That said, many people experience these common symptoms when stress is short-lived:
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Wandering thoughts
- Irrational irritability
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Experiencing even a single one of these symptoms can turn even the best day into a slog. Ordinarily, once the situation resolves itself, you’ll start to feel better and won’t experience these symptoms again until another stressful situation arises.
Though most people experience short-term stress, some also have to deal with long-term stress symptoms. These symptoms include the following:
- Gastro-intestinal issues
- Chronic insomnia
- Menstrual problems
- Chronic depression
- Lack of focus
- Constant disorganization
- Low levels of energy
- Sore muscles due to tension
Chronic stress can cause some pretty serious issues not just for your mental health but for your physical health, too.
The Long-Term Effects of Stress on Your Body
Let’s be real—improving your mental health is hard and, often, it’s difficult to tell if you have problems due to stress when you’re juggling all of your regular daily responsibilities.
However, there are some pretty serious physical issues of long-term stress that you’ll notice if you’re stressed for weeks or months on end.
1. Weight Gain
Ladies, cortisol may be the stress hormone that makes it easier for you to respond to stressful situations in productive ways. But that’s only in the short-term. When you let it build up over time, that cortisol can encourage your body to store fat.
If there is cortisol present, your blood sugar levels increase to give you that necessary energy boost. When your sugar levels are high, you can’t burn calories easily. This causes your cells to store food energy as fat for later.
If you’re gaining weight without changing any of your regular behaviors, it might be the result of some serious long-term stress that you’re dealing with.
2. Digestive Issues
Stress affects the way food moves throughout your body which can then cause problems such as diarrhea, constipation. Other problems that you might experience are nausea, stomachache and bloating.
If you experience a lot of stress you are also more likely to experience heart burn or acid reflux.
Stress affects the way we digest food making it harder to get all the beneficial nutrients your body needs to be healthy.
3. Breathing Issues
Believe it or not, stress can make it harder for you to breathe normally. For some people, it’s because all of your tension and nerves cause your muscles to tense up and constrict.
When this happens, your lungs may have a harder time expanding like normal. But if you have asthma, that same stress can cause flare-ups even if you haven’t had an asthma attack in years.
4. Heart Problems
Stress can also contribute to the severity of heart disease, especially if you’re predisposed to the conditions through an extensive family history.
If you already have heart disease, stress can also increase your risk of experiencing a heart attack.
5. Musculoskeletal Problems
Think about how you feel when you’re stressed. The chances are that your muscles are tight, and that tension can cause some serious soreness and pain.
Over time, this tension can cause restrictions in your range of motion and can make it harder for you to feel up to exercising and moving around.
6. Weakened Immune System
When you’re stressed, your body’s normal responses to viruses and bacteria won’t be as high powered as it normally is. This means you risk getting sick more often or staying sick for longer when you’re feeling stressed.
Why? Because all those resources your body would normally use to get rid of illnesses are currently working to try to get you out of your stressed state.
How To Manage Stress
Though it can be tough to pull yourself out of chronic stress, it’s definitely doable. You just need to commit to doing what your body needs to better cope with stress when it comes around.
It takes work but these proven tips will help you power through those stressful times without compromising your health.
Get Enough Exercise
One of the best ways to deal with stress and help keep your cortisol levels down is through exercise. Make a point to establish a workout routine that you can stick to each week.
You don’t have to go crazy. Just keep yourself moving. Do yoga on your off days or just go for a long walk around the block when you’re dealing with racing thoughts.
Getting a good night’s sleep when you’re stressed isn’t always easy. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Create a sleep schedule that will help you go to bed around the same time and wake up at the same time each morning. The more consistent you can be, the easier it will be for your body to relax and fall asleep when you need it to.
If you have trouble finding ways to relax before bed, start by putting down your phone at least an hour before you go to sleep. This will help you quiet your mind and start to get tired naturally.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Your diet can play a huge role in your body’s stress response. When you eat junk food that’s full of processed ingredients, it can make it harder for your body to deal with stress in a positive way.
Ditch the processed ingredients and eat a diet full of whole grains, lean proteins, vitamins, fruit, and fresh veg. These foods are full of the nutrients you need to combat feelings of stress and maintain your health.
Find Ways To Relax
One of the best ways to overcome feelings of stress is to find ways to relax and unwind at the end of the day. Every day, try to do at least one thing you love to help you relax.
This can be anything from reading a book to watching your favourite show. Whatever it is, you should feel better after enjoying the activity.
Stay Connected With Those You Love
One of the most common reasons people feel overly stressed is because they feel disconnected from those closest to them. If you’re feeling isolated, reach out. Stay connected with the people you love.
Call your friends and family when you want to talk. Have a video chat with your friends when you don’t feel like going out.
Work With a Professional
If all else fails and you can’t overcome those feelings of stress on your own, don’t give in. Instead, reach out for help. Find a therapist you’re comfortable working with and let them guide you through the process.
You don’t even have to go to a therapist’s office to receive counseling. You can do it from the comfort of your own home without a problem.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with getting professional help. It’s not a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of strength and your commitment to feeling better quickly.
Don’t Let Stress Overwhelm You
Stress can be overwhelming and can change the way you live your life if you’re not careful. Do what you can to reduce your feelings of stress whenever possible and don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you’re struggling.
The sooner you start committing yourself to finding ways to feel better, the easier it will be to see improvements.
Just remember that your overall health can play a huge role in your ability to cope with stress. If you have any other topics you want me to write about, let me know in the comments!
Love Rachael xx