I am finally getting to that promised post on managing stress and the effects of stress on the body. It goes hand and hand with the holiday season in full swing. I don’t think I would be the first to say that the holidays can bring more stress into our lives, as we stress about finding time for all the holiday parties and events, finding the perfect gift and having enough money for all those gifts on our list.
I was forced to lay low over Thanksgiving weekend, for a few of the days anyways. Wednesday night (early Thursday morning) I was up with the flu, throwing up among only bodily functions. It wasn’t pleasant. We were forced to stay home, as I could barely get out of bed to make it to the bathroom in time. We didn’t want to risk getting anyone else sick so my kids had leftover homemade pizza for their Thanksgiving lunch and we didn’t make it to the Turkey Trot. It was very disappointing and not how I envisioned spending our Thanksgiving, but I was thankful for all the extra time I had to rest and finish some Christmas projects that will be gifts for the family. And my husband was at least home on Thanksgiving to help with the kids.
This lifted a huge weight off my shoulder, thus less stress about finding time to get all the gifts done and ordered. And I even managed to find enough strength to finish the yard work. That wiped me though. I have brushed the topic of stress before on the blog, but only on the surface. We’re going to dive in a little deeper and look at the effects of stress on the body and tips for managing it.
- Stress can cause headaches / migraines – With stress, muscles are tense, leading to migraines or headaches. Tension in the neck, shoulders and head from chronic stress, can cause chronic migraines or headaches (read more below).
- Stress can cause muscle pain & tension – This is definitely something, as athletes, we want to keep at bay. When we are stressed our muscles tense up, it’s described as a reflex reaction, and is the body’s way of guarding against pain. If you have chronic stress, your muscles are also in a guarded state, aka always tense; thus chronic painful conditions are common. These tense muscles can make training difficult, as they aren’t lax and can cause injuries.
- Stress can cause fatigue and sleep problems – The endocrine system is affected by stress, putting stress on the adrenal glands and the pituitary glands. The stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol are high in stressful situations as part of the intended response, but chronically high hormones causes negative affects.
- Stress can cause respiratory problems – Stress can make it difficult to breathe, especially for those with asthma or lunge disease. Stress can contribute to panic attacks.
- Stress can cause upset stomach – Chronic stress can cause ulcers and severe pain and nausea, causing one to throw up.
- Stress can cause decrease in sex drive – More common in women, who tend to carry more of the responsibility of caring for the family and sick family members.
- Stress can cause anxiety, depression & sadness – The nervous system is affected, which causes many other problems in all other systems in the body.
- Stress can cause lack of motivation, irritability and anger
- Stress can cause overeating or undereating – Since stress affects our hormones, it can affect those hormones associated with our hunger and hunger ques.
- Stress can cause alcohol abuse or drug abuse – This is due in part to the ways our culture tends to manage stress. Alcohol and drug abuse is thought as a way to help manage stress, but it can have long term health effects and isn’t a useful mechanism for managing stress.
- Stress can cause less exercising and social withdrawal – Due to the lack of motivation and emotional distress we may feel under stress.
- Stress can cause spacey thoughts
- Stress effects the gastrointestinal tract – You may find yourself with diarrhea or constipation and an inability to properly absorb nutrients.
Some of these common symptoms of stress can then lead to major health problems such as diabetes, insomnia, adrenal fatigue, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, among others. The cardiovascular system is stressed as well when under chronic stress. Chronic stress contributes to long term problems on the heart and blood vessels, as the body is always in fight or flight mode, thus an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart. This on-going stress can increase risk for hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Stress can also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, increasing cholesterol levels.
The common ways we manage stress in our culture, only contribute to more stress and physiological disturbances. These would include watching television, surfing the internet or playing video games, which may increase your stress over the long term, even though they seem relaxing at the time. It’s useful to manage stress in more active ways.
Some of my favorite ways to manage stress as well as the recommended ways for managing stress our as follows:
- Regular physical activity – It is recommended to have at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in a week. That’s 30 minutes 5 days a week. Honestly, it’s not that much when you look at how much time is spent scrolling Instagram or Facebook in a day. Greater health benefits for additional time.
- Socializing with family & friends – This is great for easing stress, because you enjoy other’s company and you often forget about your stress and worry. Meet for coffee or tea, take the kids to the park, enjoy a puzzle or game with the family, go for a walk with the kiddos and girlfriends, explore a new area.
- Keep the funny – Humor helps in most any stressful situations. Read a funny book or watch a few (but not too many) funny videos. Go see a comedian or invite your funniest friend over. Also, bring the humor back to you!!
- Relaxation techniques – Yoga, tai chi, deep breathing or massage are all great for relaxing and centering yourself. You have to take time to get good at this, starting with 5-10 minutes and working up.
- Prayer – I find comfort in journaling my thoughts and prayers and diving into God’s Word, so I know what His promises say. It helps me to cast it all upon Him.
- Make time for Hobbies – Reading, playing an instrument, listening to music, scrapbooking, hiking, puzzles, baking. Whatever you enjoy doing, try doing it again!! Bring it back into your daily life.
- Sleep – The more sleep you get the less stress you will feel. Sleep allows the body to recover and rest, and also can help the mind shut off. Set the mood for sleep by keeping electronics out of the bedroom, diffusing lavender essential oil, soft lights, taking melatonin or sipping a warm cup of lavender tea or tart cherry juice.