A recent survey by the American Psychological Association asked Americans to rate their level of stress on a scale from one to 10. The average male respondent rated their stress as 4.9, while the average female respondent rated it 5.3. That means everywhere you turn people are facing stress—from home, to work, and even at play.
While the effects stress can be beneficial for the human body in some situations, like a traffic stop or search and rescue mission where the fight or flight response helps you be more vigilant and focused, chronic stress can lead to the physical and mental health problems described below. When faced with stress, your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone, and adrenaline. The release of these chemicals can affect your health and wellbeing in several negative ways.
The good news is that there are a number of ways to manage stress better and protect your health.
1. Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure
People who experience chronic psychological stress are at a significantly higher risk of developing high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension. To prevent high blood pressure from having a negative effect on your health, it is important to get in the habit of having your blood pressure checked regularly. It may be helpful to have a portable blood pressure monitor at home, or to check it using the free blood pressure machines found in pharmacies. This allows you to know your numbers, so if they are higher than the normal range of less than 120 over less than 80, you can quickly schedule a doctor’s visit.
You can also take steps to lower your risk of high blood pressure including eating a healthy, low salt diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol, and quitting smoking.
2. Calm Your Stomach with Healthy Food and Drink Choices
Feeling the need to run frequently to the restroom on the day of an important meeting? That is most likely due to the effect of stress on your body. Chronic stress has been linked to affecting the oxygen supply in your body. During stressful situations, blood and oxygen supply to the stomach decreases and you may have symptoms like stomach cramping.
Focus on increasing your water intake, and staying away from alcoholic and carbonated drinks, as well as dairy to calm your digestive tract. The great news is that once the stressful episode is over, your digestive system should get back to normal.
3. Get More Rest with Good Sleep Hygiene
Stress is also a major cause of insomnia. People with chronic stress tend to lie awake at night, unable to fall asleep. Lack of adequate sleep can have a significant effect on your body, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In addition, sleep issues affect your memory and concentration.
Practicing good sleep hygiene is important. Cut down exercise close to bedtime. Keep screens like cell phones, tablets, and TVs out of the bedroom. Avoid alcohol and heavy meals close to bedtime. Refrain from having serious discussions and arguments just before bed. Create a comfortable sleep environment that decreases disturbances and encourages sleep.
4. Try Relaxation Exercises to Prevent Teeth Grinding
That gnashing sound while you’re asleep? Stress, anxiety, and depression can all lead to teeth grinding. Frequent grinding can put your dental health at risk. Also known as bruxism, grinding your teeth can lead to facial disfigurations as the jaw shifts, fractured teeth, and more.
Finding ways to relax, and de-stress before you go to sleep can help prevent teeth grinding. Some great relaxation tips include meditating, deep breathing exercises, and guided imagery. There are many different apps that can help you make these practices part of your nightly routine. Gentle stretching and massage may also help. And to protect your teeth, talk with your dentist about getting a nightguard.
The Bottom Line
Stress doesn’t only affect the psychological health of the body. It can also trigger physical health problems. Understanding the impact of stress is an important step toward taking control of your life and reducing your stress levels.