Introduction to Stress: Understanding the Impact of Stress on Your Health and Wellness

Who isn’t stressed these days? Between hectic work schedules, family demands, money worries and the 24/7 news cycle, anxiety has become an inevitable part of life. But did you know that extended periods of stress can negatively impact almost every aspect of your health? Let’s look at what’s going on in the body when you feel frazzled and why it matters.

The Physiology of Stress

When you perceive a threat, whether psychological or physical, your body activates its “fight-or-flight” response. The adrenal glands flood your system with cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that affect everything from heart rate and blood pressure to immunity and digestion. Short bursts give you energy and focus to manage dangerous situations. However, when elevated long-term, these stress hormones suppress reproductive, growth and thyroid hormones leading to widespread issues.

Stress and Wellness

Many studies have shown that chronic stress is a contributor to weight gain, infertility issues, memory problems, anxiety, depression and insomnia. It also reduces immunity, raising vulnerability to frequent colds and flus while increasing inflammation behind many diseases. By way of example, one research study found elevated levels of the inflammatory marker, C-reactive protein, in people when subject to stress. This marker shows up in those at risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.

Managing stress through healthy lifestyle strategies allows the body to function optimally. Unfortunately, common coping mechanisms like excess alcohol, overeating sweet treats or not getting enough sleep only worsen its effects. You could think of stress as an amplifier which turns up the volume of unhealthy habits. See our article on alcohol and its effect on sleep here

The good news?

Participating in wellness activities and making different choices can effectively counteract the impact of stress on the body and mind. Exercise has been shown to help depressive symptoms improve up to 30 percent by reducing immune system chemicals that can inhibit mood-boosting endorphins. Social connection, volunteering and creative activities all have a part to play in enhancing mental wellness and decreasing stress which helps to reduce the risk of long-term health problems brought about by the aforementioned chronic inflammation.

As you learn to minimise stress where possible and mitigate its effects, notice improvements in energy, concentration, illness resistance and outlook. The volume will start to decrease as a more positive mindset emerges. Support healthy functioning by caring for needs, building in relaxing experiences and embracing wellness solutions. In the coming weeks we’ll start to look at ideas to help you to better wellbeing from the inside out.

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