• Is Stress Really a Serious Health Concern?

    All This Stress is Giving Me a Headache

    Just because most people experience high levels of stress, doesn’t mean you can brush it off as no big deal.

    Why Do You Say That?

    There’s a saying I learned the first time I attended the San Diego Pain Summit: “Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s normal.” And nothing’s more common than stress. Amiright? The thing is, more than 15-20 minutes of stress at a time (the time it takes to either fight or flee) is not normal. Or at least it’s not normal as far as your body is concerned. You see, your body is only meant to deal with stress in 15-20ish minute chunks. So… when your micromanaging boss breathes down your neck all day and your spouse and kids bombard you with questions, needs, and distractions all evening, as far as your body is concerned… that ain’t normal. Even if you’ve been dealing with these things so long now they seem normal… they ain’t.

    In fact, many of the common things we think of as a normal part of aging are actually by products of stress. Allow me to explain.

    How Stress Affects You

    Before continuing, it’s worth noting that the body treats every type of stress as a physical threat. Historically, that was not only the main type of stressor, it was the only one with potentially deadly consequences.

    Stress affects your entire being: body, mind, and spirit. It releases a cascade of hormones that cause changes to occur that will greatly enhance your ability to either fight off a saber tooth tiger or run away from it successfully.

    It sends more blood where it’ll do the most good – the arms and legs. To do that, it sends less blood to areas not needed for fighting of fleeing like: the logic and memory centers of your brain as well as your digestive system. Ever wonder why your memory sucks or why you feel so stupid when you’re stressed? This is why.

    To get you the quick energy you need, your air passages expand so you can get (and use) more oxygen. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, as do the glucose (sugar) and fatty acid levels in your blood. High blood pressure isn’t a normal part of aging, but it is a normal part of dealing with too much stress for too long.

    Your metabolism also slows down, because blood and energy are being diverted from your digestive system to your limbs. I know it doesn’t seem fair that stress can make you fatter but think of how deadly it would be if your metabolism sped up while you were fighting or fleeing that saber tooth tiger and you suddenly had to go to the bathroom. #GameOver

    Long Term Effects of Stress

    So I briefly described how the body benefits from an ideally executed stress response. But let’s face it, you probably have regular stressors that last far longer than the ideal 15-20 minute window. So what happens then? Let me break it down by types of effect.

    Emotional

    • Anger
    • Frustration
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Moodiness
    • Overwhelm
    • Difficulty relaxing
    • Inability to quiet your mind
    • Low self esteem
    • Withdrawing

    Cognitive

    • Impaired memory
    • Inability to focus
    • Racing thoughts
    • Constant worry
    • Forgetfulness
    • Disorganization
    • Poor judgement
    • Pessimism

    Physical

    • Headaches
    • Migraines
    • Insomnia
    • Low energy
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Acne
    • Eczema
    • Psoriasis
    • Hair loss
    • Nausea
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhea
    • Acid reflux
    • Ulcerative colitis
    • Irritable bowel
    • Aches and Pains
    • Muscle tension
    • Clenching jaw and/or grinding teeth
    • Dry mouth
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Change in appetite
    • Tinnitus
    • Cold or sweaty hands and feet
    • Chest pain
    • Rapid heart rate
    • High blood pressure
    • Frequent colds and infections
    • Increased blood sugar levels (diabetes)
    • Increased fatty acid levels in blood
    • Insulin resistance
    • Increased risk of heart attack
    • Increased risk of stroke
    • Lower metabolism
    • Obesity
    • Eating disorders
    • Decreased thyroid function
    • Decreased natural killer cells
    • Increase in virus infected cells
    • Increased risk of cancer
    • Increased pressure in the eye (can lead to glaucoma)
    • Decreased visual acuity
    • Decreased bone density

    There are a lot more ways that long term stress can negatively affect you but I figure this is enough to be getting on with. Don’t you?

    So What Are You Going to do Now?

    There are any number of stress relieving activities (like massage) or essential oils that you can use to temporarily decrease your stress response and I highly suggest you find a few that you can cycle through as needed. Here are a few articles that will give you some suggestions in case you need them:
    5 Sure Fire Ways to Deal With High Stress
    6 (Really) Easy Ways to Relieve Stress

    However, relieving stress symptoms isn’t enough. You need to reduce the amount of stress you’re dealing with and manage what remains. I can’t tell you what that may look like for you, but chances are good that you could rattle off a good handful of things that would drastically decrease your stress. Some of them might be achievable, a few might even be easy, but I’ll bet a few of them are gonna be hard and require changes that you may or may not be able or willing to undertake.

    I can’t tell you what to do, but if your insurance covers it, or you are comfortable enough financially to afford one, a good therapist can help you figure it out. Good friends can encourage and empower you to make changes as well. Just pick ’em off one at a time (the stressors, not your friends), starting with the easy ones and working your way toward the harder ones. I’ll bet you get farther than you think you will, because each stressor that you reduce or get rid of will help fuel the courage and conviction needed to tackle the next change, and the next, and so on.

    So, now that you know how seriously stress can affect your health, which stressor are you going to tackle first? Let me know in the comments below.

    Oh yeah… feel free to share this on your social channels, especially if you happen to know anyone who has more stress than they should.