Updated: Jun 18, 2021
We have all heard about how stress affects our health. There are several different kinds of stress. Some kinds of acute stress can be healthy and motivating, but chronic stress has been associated with many of today’s leading health problems such as heart disease and cancer, not to mention lower overall life satisfaction and happiness. Some of us are more prone to unhealthy stress because of genetics, trauma, poverty, being raised in an unsupportive environment, and the list goes on.
Why is stress so harmful to our physical health? When we are stressed our flight or fight, or sympathetic nervous system, is running the show. The sympathetic nervous system is perfect for dealing with situations like running from a predator. However, this is generally not necessary in today’s world. The sympathetic nervous system was designed to be active for short spurts of time to help with immediate survival needs. During this time your pulse quickens, your breathing rate increases, your muscles tense, and your body’s blood and energy are directed to your extremities so you can run or fight. The problem for many of us is that our sympathetic nervous system is staying activated for long periods of time due to modern stressors. This takes away blood and energy from the rest of our body; leading to lowered immunity and improperly functioning digestive, excretory, and reproduction systems. We are unable to think clearly and make decisions because the blood and energy in our brains leaves the frontal cortex, and instead our amygdala takes charge.
Symptoms of stress may show up in your body, mind, and your behaviors. If you are experiencing any of the following issues it is time to address your stress!
Body: headaches, muscle twitches, fatigue, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, upset stomach, insomnia, muscle tension and pain, teeth grinding, weight loss or gain.
Mind: worrying, impaired thinking and judgment, indecision, nightmares, negativity, loss of confidence, irritability, depression, apprehension, anger, frustration.
Behavior: accident prone, loss of appetite, decreased sex drive, increased alcohol and drug use, increased smoking.
Here are some great ways to calm your nervous system.
Get a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise a day.
Spend time in nature
Discover activities that you enjoy and spend more time doing them.
Set small goals for yourself each day that you can accomplish. Avoid creating daily goals that are impossible to accomplish within your timeframe, resources, and abilities.
Become comfortable with setting boundaries and saying “no”.
At the end of the day reflect on your successes and avoid dwelling on what you “should have done”.
Make time for healthy, supportive, and fun social interactions. Avoid isolating yourself.