Stress is one of the most common complaints of the 21st century. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of the population experiences stress regularly, with 60% experiencing it daily. It’s safe to say this is a real epidemic.
Stress isn’t all bad, though. It is a necessary part of life as it helps us be alert in times of danger.
But when stress isn’t the type of danger that requires you to fight or run for your life, things start to get complicated. Especially when it turns into chronic stress.
From insomnia and anxiety to low immunity and high blood pressure, keep reading to learn all about stress, its impact on your health, and how to avoid these potential stress-related issues.
Stress and its effect on the body
In short, stress is your body’s way of responding to any perceived threat. This is why stress isn’t inherently bad. We need a mechanism that triggers our fight-or-flight response. How else would you instinctively know how to react when facing a bear in the woods?
In today’s world, the problem is that this state lasts much longer than it should because we no longer live as our ancestors did. For them, stress meant being chased by a wild animal or going to war to fight for land and food.
And while that was incredibly stressful for them, it didn’t take up a whole lot of their day. As soon as the danger had passed, the person could relax and go back to life as usual. Fortunately, most of us just don’t come across too many bears, lions, or other wild animals.
Nowadays, however, stress can be made of things like uncertainty at the workplace or financial difficulties. It is the type of stress that doesn’t end quickly. Our body keeps us prepared to fight or fly and eagerly awaits the relaxation that should come when the danger passes. But that just doesn’t happen. And soon, we start feeling the side effects.
Stress hormones and how they impact health
We know stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are necessary for life as they help trigger that fight-or-flight response. Prolonged stress, however, means we’re getting an excess of these hormones. And you know what people say about too much of a good thing.
For instance, adrenaline increases your heart rate and inhibits insulin production while making it easier for your muscles to absorb glucose. Frequent adrenaline surges can cause insomnia, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart attacks.
Cortisol has similar effects but can also affect how your immune system and reproductive system work. In women, for instance, a common side effect is anovulation.
Excess cortisol can cause an increased risk of osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and memory problems.
According to the American Institute of Stress, fatigue and headaches are the first signs your body is going through too much stress - as many as 51% of people experience this.
Muscle tension is experienced by around 30%, while 23% of people see changes in their appetite.
In terms of emotional and mental issues, irritability and anger are present among 50% of those who go through stress. Lack of energy is experienced by 45%, while up to 35% go through depression.
How many of these have you experienced?
Other ways in which stress affects us
Physical and mental health aren’t the only things that suffer due to prolonged stress. Our entire lives can be affected.
The American Institute of Stress found that 48% of people say stress negatively impacts their social and professional life. 54% said stress was impacting their family, causing fights and misunderstandings.
Types of stress
Not all types of stress are created equal. And before looking at each type, it is important to remember that they’re not mutually exclusive. You can experience more than one type at any given time.
Generally speaking, this is the less dangerous type of stress. It is the one that gives you a quick adrenaline rush but then resolves just as quickly as it came. Examples include sky diving or going on a roller coaster. I bet you have good memories of going to amusement parks, right?
Narrowly escaping a car accident is also a type of acute stress. Cue the not-so-good memories…
This type of stress does not negatively impact your health in most cases. However, it shouldn’t be confused with severe acute stress, which includes life-threatening situations and can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health problems.
Episodic acute stress
This happens when you go through frequent episodes of acute stress.
Anxiety with panic attacks is a common cause of episodic acute stress. But some professions such as firefighters or law enforcement officers may also experience this type of stress.
Like severe acute stress, this type can lead to health issues, including mental health problems.
This is the most dangerous type of stress, also known as the silent killer. Whether we’re talking about work-related stress, financial problems, or relationships, they all bring a surge of stress hormones. In time, the excess could lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, blood pressure issues, and even heart disease.
Causes of stress
According to a study conducted by the American Institute of Stress, the number one cause of stress among the adult population is related to their job. Money isn’t far behind, whether it’s about paying the bills or being able to save for the future.
The third cause of stress is health. Living with a chronic illness seems to take first place in this category. Terminal diseases and health crises also severely impact one’s life, whether experienced personally or by a loved one.
Relationships are the fourth most common cause of stress. Whether it is marriage issues, divorce, arguments, or even loneliness, our relationships or lack thereof can turn into chronic stress.
Another surprising cause found by the American Institute of Stress is media overload. Between social media, tv, radio, podcasts, blogs, and other forms of media is this really a surprise?
Finally, improper nutrition and sleep deprivation also contribute to feeling stressed. Drinking too much caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and not getting enough sleep put a lot of stress on your body. Before you know it, you find yourself gaining weight, feeling anxious, and experiencing brain fog.
How to reduce stress
Going through a stressful situation every now and then is an inevitable part of life. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. Stress management is a lot more accessible than you’d think.
Start by prioritizing rest and relaxation whenever possible.
For instance, you may not be able to avoid stress at work, but you can choose how to spend the rest of your time when not working. Can you set boundaries to keep work within your working hours? Sign up for a yoga or art class? Read a book with a cup of herbal tea? You get the idea.
And don’t forget to sleep at least 7-8 hours a day. Try to wake up and go to bed at around the same time each day. Yes, even during the weekend! While this may seem stressful at first, it is beneficial for your body to have a sleep routine.
By maintaining the same sleep schedule each day, you’ll fall asleep faster and find it easier to wake up in the morning. If, on the contrary, you mess up your schedule entirely during the weekend, either by staying up all night or by sleeping in, you’ll feel exhausted when Monday comes.
Don’t forget about exercise either. You don’t have to go crazy and do high-intensity training seven days a week. But moderate exercise 3-5 times a week can help lower stress hormone levels.
Meditation and yoga can also be great options for those days when you feel exhausted physically and mentally.
Finally, don’t forget to prioritize your mental health. Depression and anxiety are some of chronic stress's most common side effects. A strong support system of family and friends is essential. So, if possible, try not to isolate yourself.
But don’t disregard therapy either. There’s nothing shameful in asking for help and talking to a professional. Many therapists specialize in helping you deal with stress regardless of its cause. Remember, you don’t have to go through it alone, and the sooner you reach out for help, the better.
Stress will affect everyone at some point. You may not be able to prevent it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t manage it. Acute stress may give you a quick adrenaline rush, but chronic stress will take a toll on your health. Some excellent stress management techniques include prioritizing rest, eating healthy, and moving your body while also taking care of your mental health.
Going into the new year may be a great time to set some resolutions that will help you decrease the stress in your life. Follow our Facebook group and let us know which stress management techniques you want to apply to your life in the new year!
This blog post does not provide health or medical advice. This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health or medical advice. Before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate medical and healthcare professionals. We do not provide any kind of health or medical advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this blog is solely at your own risk.