Are you stressed? Most of us feel stress on a daily basis and although this is common, it isn’t healthy for your mental or physical health. The American Psychological Association reports that about half of Americans report lying awake at night due to stress, one-third of Americans feel they are living with extreme stress, and more than three quarters of us feel that money and work are the leading causes of stress. Stress impacts your body and your mind. The more you can recognize the physical and emotional signs of stress, the more confident you will become in reducing the stress in your life.
If you’re worried about a deadline or an upcoming event, a little stress can actually be a good thing. The body sends out messages that help you feel motivated and alert. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones such as cortisol, increasing your heart and breathing rates. Your brain receives more oxygen, giving you the edge needed to respond to a problem.
In the short term, stress can help you cope with tough situations. But if you encounter another stressor or don’t recover from the previous one, your body’s stress (cortisol) levels may remain elevated longer than what is necessary for survival. This impacts your brain chemistry, and overtime it leads to burnout, fatigue, anxiety and depression. If you notice that you are still feeling overwhelmed after the stressful situation is over, or a new source of anxiety comes up on the heels of the original stressor, your body hasn’t been given a chance to relax. This is chronic stress, which is detrimental to your body and mind.
Are You Suffering From Too Much Stress?
Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and can affect your overall health and well-being. Everyone responds to stress a little differently. These are some of the signs to look for:
- Feeling like nothing you do is good enough
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite
- Feeling like you have no control or grasping for more control
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Lack of focus and trouble getting things done
- Increased self-criticism and low self-esteem
- Short temper and irritability
- Trouble falling and/or staying asleep
- Upset stomach, acid reflux, constipation or loose stools
- Back and neck pain, feeling tense and sore
These symptoms may also be signs of depression or anxiety, which can be caused by too much or prolonged stress in your life.
How Does Stress Impact Your Mental and Physical Health?
Our brain and body are connected. If you find that your body is exhausted, overwhelmed and your mind won’t stop racing, it’s a warning sign; you’re stressed. Ignoring the symptoms can lead to long-term consequences. Here are just a few:
- Sleep Problems and Insomnia. Sleep is vital for optimal mental and physical health. When stressed, your brain has a difficult time relaxing. Melatonin (the hormone that helps you sleep) doesn’t work as efficiently, because cortisol may be elevated when you are trying to go to sleep. Without enough sleep, your brain cannot detoxify and repair during the night. When our body doesn’t get the rest it needs, you are more likely to get sick, feel on edge and even more stressed.
- Increased Risk for Depression. Once again, stress elevates cortisol regardless of whether you have dealt with long-term stress or stress from a difficult life event (job change, divorce, finals). This may trigger depression in some people. The feelings associated with stress and the lack of energy can make one feel sad, hopeless or have difficulty functioning.
- Poor Digestion/Stomach Problems: Stress may start in the mind, but it often manifests itself in the body through physical symptoms, especially in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition characterized by stomachaches, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea, are signals of GI distress. This depletes your body of vital nutrients and the pain experienced increases body and mind stress. IBS isn’t always related to stress or anxiety, but the two often occur together and can make each other worse. The gut is very sensitive to psychological stress. Ulcers, acid reflux and nutritional deficiencies all can be traced back to stress. Not to mention the physical and social discomfort from digestive problems can be stressful.
- Weight Gain. Research has linked higher levels of cortisol to weight gain. Even though your mind is constantly moving the chemicals in your body, you are exhausted. This leads to a decreased metabolism, increased appetite and sugar cravings which can lead to weight gain.
These are just a few of the mental and physical ramifications of stress. If you are noticing that any of these symptoms are occurring for you or a loved one, please contact your doctor or mental health practitioner as soon as possible. It may mean a few small lifestyle changes or supplementation is needed to help you rebuild your body and mind from the stress endured.
What Can You Do?
Do you want to know how stress really affects your brain? Balancing neurotransmitters can help correct the ratios between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. Test your levels here and start balancing your brain’s stress levels today.
Don’t let stress take over your well-being. Be proactive and gentle with yourself.
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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