Is the stress really worth your long-term health?
Celebrated the first week of November, Stress Awareness Week was created in 2018 to cover awareness for stress-related issues. Although this week will have passed by the time you read this, it’s more relevant than ever in today's society.
It’s sadly ironic that the week also happened to fall on probably one of the most stressful weeks of the whole year, with the election drama taking center stage. At this point, though, stress levels are still high and people are nervous about what the future holds.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
As hard as it is to remove yourself from the current situation, you might really want to think about it. Stress can cause real damage to both your mind and body and contribute to serious health problems long-term if not kept in check.
Stress in and of itself is a natural response that happens to everyone throughout their lives.
Common sources of stress that may happen are before a big exam, a tight deadline at work, running late for an appointment, and, of course, modern-day politics.
Stress has a time and a place, although it was originally developed for our primal ancestors when the threat of predators was always a possibility. Now, we don’t have to worry about a bear mauling us. But the body may still respond as if it’s a life or death situation.
An article published by the American Psychological Association highlights some of the risks and side effects that stress can present. Although chronic stress is the primary concern, short-term bouts or episodes of it can also cause a multitude of symptoms. Stomach aches and headaches are common physical effects. Short-term stress can even trigger sudden heart attacks, although this is mostly the case with individuals who already have heart disease.
Chronic stress is the real issue and this is what needs to have a spotlight. There are two reasons long-term stress can cause physical ailments and potentially lead to life-threatening problems.
One, obviously, is the direct impact of stress hormones on your body. Over time, it can cause disturbances in all areas of your body, from your digestion, to your heart health, immune, sleep and even reproductive system, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.
The constant strain on your body can lead to heart disease or diabetes, and contribute to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
The secondhand effect of chronic stress is the bad habits that individuals might adapt in an effort to cope. Overeating, or “stress-eating” is a common one. Smoking and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol may also be used as coping mechanisms. All of these can lead to its own set of debilitating health issues.
The good news for those who suffer from bouts of stress — and most of us do — is that there many solutions for keeping it at bay.
Recognize that you are stressed. Some aren’t always aware that that pounding headache and difficulty sleeping is because of that nagging worry at the back of your mind. You have to understand what’s happening first before you can take steps to calm yourself.
Exercise daily, if possible. Exercise is one of the best shields you can use to combat stress.
Even 30 minutes of walking a day can improve your overall mood and health.
Talk to other people. Having a support group is important to have a clear mind. Speaking to friends or family about what is troubling you can at least temporarily squash some of your troubles and help you to feel at ease. If necessary, you can also speak to a mental health professional to try to get down to the bottom of what’s troubling you and learn healthy coping techniques.
Take time to relax. Try to take time out of your day to do some enjoyable or calming activities.
This could be as simple as doing something that you enjoy, such as a calming warm bath or listening to your favorite music.
Whatever works for you, do it!
Learn to take things into context. This one is possibly the hardest to do, but can have a big impact on your overall mental well-being. Some people may stress over every little thing.
But, you have to ask yourself, is it worth it? Weeks from now, are you even going to remember that particular event that made your blood pressure rise? Probably not.
There’s a great quote by a cardiologist, Robert Eliot, who studied the effects of stress on the heart:
“Rule number one is, don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it’s all small stuff.”
For resources, go to.nimh.nih.gov.