As we go from adolescent to adult, it’s typical for our responsibilities to grow over time. It starts with being on time for school and doing homework and evolves to a line-up that includes bills, jobs, significant others, home ownership, debt, kids, and more. Before you know it, you’re full-blown adulting. And, if you’re like me, that means a lot of stress in your day-to-day.
Stressed Out: A Recent Phenomenon
Did you know that the phrase “stressed out” wasn’t even coined until the 20th century? Let’s face it — society today functions at a much faster pace than it did 50 or 100 years ago. So even though our daily responsibilities haven’t changed much over time, our environment and culture have changed significantly and have contributed to higher-than-ever levels of stress.
Why are we feeling more stressed now?
- Technology — Modern times allow us to be constantly connected and do things in an instant that previously took hours, days, or longer. Thanks to these efficiencies, we tend to take on more than ever and forget to disconnect sometimes.
- Pollution — I’m not just talking smog. Beyond the obvious issue of air pollution, there is also noise and visual pollution everywhere that your body is constantly processing.
- Constant comparison — Thanks to TV and social media, we are pummeled with images of beautiful, successful, wealthy people who appear to be living the good life.
- Uncertainty — It is shown that anticipation or worry about something negative happening causes more stress than knowing for certain that the negative thing will actually happen. Regardless of what side you are on, it is fair to assume that uncertainty has risen in the past few years regarding topics like politics, personal safety, and human rights.
How Stress Affects Our Body
While there are times that stress can be a good thing, the trouble starts when we have constant or chronic stress and don’t know how to manage it in healthy ways. Frequent stress over time makes us less productive and cranky — and worse, research has shown that chronic stress has a significant effect on our immune system that ultimately shows up as illness. In fact, the following health issues, diseases, and disorders have all been linked to stress:
- Head — Headaches, dizziness, grinding teeth
- Mind — Anxiety, depression, anger and panic disorders, substance abuse, addiction
- Heart — Increased heart rate, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, arrhythmias
- Gut — Digestive disorders, abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers
- Weight — Weight gain, obesity, diabetes types 1 and 2
- Other — Chronic fatigue, insomnia, muscle tension, fibromyalgia, asthma, sexual dysfunction, skin problems (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
The good news: You can control the extent to which stress affects you if you learn to recognize the symptoms.
Stress Management Can Positively Impact Your Health
We can control how we respond to stress by first becoming aware of our body’s response to it (e.g., tightened/tense muscles, increased heart rate, quicker breathing). If you can quickly recognize your body’s stress response, you can use stress management techniques to diffuse the stress. Here’s how:
- Learn relaxation techniques — There are a ton of online resources, and in your community as well, that teach stress-reducing breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or guided imagery.
- Stay active — The Mayo Clinic says that virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever, so don’t forget to dedicate time in your day to go for a walk, take a bike ride, dance, or play soccer with your kids.
- Take time to connect by disconnecting — It is important to make time to connect with the people who are important to you, whether it be your friend, spouse, or kids. And one way to improve these connections is by disconnecting from your phone, email, and computer and staying present in your human interactions.
- Avoid substance use — If you are feeling the effects of stress, it’s best to not mask them through use of alcohol, drugs, or overeating. These behaviors may appear to temporarily relieve stress, but they can cause health issues and addiction in the long-term.
- Seek support — If you’re having trouble managing stress on your own, lighten your burden by talking to a trusted relative or friend, counselor/therapist, doctor, or clergyman.
While you can eliminate some stressors that are within your control, you will inevitably come across stressful situations, big and small. But if you can learn to recognize how your body responds to stress and practice applying stress management techniques when those moments arise, you’ll have a chance at lessening the toll that stress has on your body and staying healthier over time.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.