by Cherokie Dyer, PharmD Candidate,
Class of 2020, University of Florida
When was the last time you felt stressed?
Stress is so common that there is an organization called, “The American Institute of Stress.” According to this group, there are 50 common signs and symptoms of stress. Many of the signs we think about when it comes to stress are difficulty making decisions, excessive anxiety, worry, guilt, and nervousness. Other common signs include increased frustration, irritability, and edginess. We can determine these signs based on our interactions with people. But… did you ever think about what stress is doing to your body on the inside?
How does Stress affect the body?
Stress can be a good thing in an emergency. It turns on your ‘fight or flight’ response. This gives you that ‘adrenaline rush’ feeling, which is the release of cortisol and epinephrine. Stress raises your blood pressure, makes your heart beat faster, and boosts sugar levels in your blood. It can also slow down your digestive tract, make your muscles tense up, and make your breathing become more rapid. All these bodily reactions are great to help you act during a crisis.
However, it’s not good when our bodies are constantly flooded with stress for a long period of time.
- Heart racing and blood rushing may cause inflammation in arteries and lead to heart attacks or strokes.
- Constant boosts in blood sugar can affect insulin and lead to pre-diabetes.
- An impaired digestive tract can keep the body from getting valuable nutrients and lead to hard or loose stools.
- Constantly tensed muscles can cause tension headaches and migraines.
- Rapid breathing can cause hyperventilation and lead to panic attacks.
- Increased cortisol may cause the body to hold on to belly fat.
- These reactions can start to make the menstrual cycle irregular or lower sperm counts.
- Stress can also affect eating patterns making us want to eat more or less than usual.
Believe it or not, constant stress can wreak havoc on our body in a multitude of other ways. Especially if you already have medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, or obesity. Your constant stress could very well be the thing that’s preventing your medications from helping you get better.
Two Key Strategies to Manage Stress
Try to prevent it and cope with it when it comes. Figure out the things that trigger your stress. Do your best to avoid them or work around them. For instance, if leaving on time for work stresses you out, invest in a new alarm or get up even earlier to give yourself more time.
There are other ways to prevent stress besides just avoiding your triggers.
- Carve out some more alone time for yourself
- Do more of the things that you bring you joy
- Make the effort to get near 8 hours of sleep
- Eat more fresh foods and whole foods
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine.
If you are already feeling stressed out, then there are a ton of options that you can try:
- Calming activities like prayer, yoga, massages, and/or deep breathing
- Active movements like going for walks, jogs, lifting weights, or taking group classes like kickboxing
- More of your favorite hobby, listen to music you like, play with your pet more often, or participate in volunteer work.
The options are endless and there is no correct answer!
Stress can be negative for both our sanity and our bodies. There are a variety of ways to deal with stress. Identify when you feel the most stressed out. Do your best to avoid that trigger and/or cope with those feelings, and your body will thank you in return.
Cherokie Dyer is a PharmD candidate of 2020 who is also pursuing a career in nutrition and holistic wellness. She founded Healthy La Vie, a wellness platform aimed to help people live healthier lives through health education, nutrition and holistic wellness tips. She’s written many articles bringing the world of medicine and nutrition together on the Healthy La Vie blog.