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The Physical Effects of Stress

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Everyone feels stress now and again, but all too often we ignore it or shrug it off as just part of life. After all, stressors can be found all around us: at work, in our family and personal life, with our finances, etc. In fact, a recent Harris Poll conducted for the American Psychological Association recently found that money is the number one cause of stress, affecting 64% of adults in 2014. So yes, you are not alone, and these anxieties seem to be inherent in many of the ways we live our life. But that does not mean we shouldn’t take stress more seriously. The affects of stress can greatly impact our health and our lives in more ways than you might think.

The magazine Popular Science recently published an article investigating the science behind our stress and how it affects our bodies. One of the main things the article focused on was how stress can affect us on a cellular level and actually disrupt our biology.

When we become stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol. Too much of this hormone can negatively effect many of our bodily systems, including our cardiovascular, nervous, metabolic, and digestive system. Even more dangerous, chronic stress can also increase our risk for heart attacks, lead to irritable bowel syndrome, and could even affect the make up of our brain.

While you may not always be able to recognize or “see” some of these internal changes, stress can also affect our health in our day-to-day lives. According to the article, nearly one in three adults reported that stress was affecting their physical well-being and roughly the same amount said that stress was taking a toll on their mental health. These symptoms include things like loss of appetite, depression or mood swings, headaches, and digestive problems. Additionally, one of the main daily routines that stress can alter is our sleep. Our cortisol generally follows natural daily rhythms, peaking in the morning and overnight and falling during midday, but when this rhythm is thrown off, it can also disturb our sleep patterns. The phrase “losing sleep” over something is a very real, frequent, and harmful occurrence. And not getting enough sleep can negatively impact many areas of our health.

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As you can see, stress is not something we should simply ignore or have to “put up with.” The good news, however, is that stress is a manageable condition, and there are numerous, easy, daily habits that we can all do to help ease this anxiety. Research has shown that these activities can have a positive affect in releasing stress: exercising, eating a more healthy diet, socializing, laughing, listening to music, yoga, meditating, and having a shoulder to lean on. But one of the simplest and most important first steps in reducing your stress is to acknowledge that it exists and actively seek solutions to reduce it.

Chronic worry, however, may be a sign of a larger health concern, and for this you should seek help from a professional psychologist. Chronic stress is stress that occurs steadily over a long period of time and that often inhibits your daily activities. Another common symptom is the loss of pleasure in activities that you used to enjoy.

If we were suffering from a physical injury or disease, we would most likely go to the doctor right away. We should treat stress, depression, and other mental health concerns with the same importance. If you are feeling the effects of stress in your life, please feel free to contact me at Stephen@PfeifferPhD.com or at my website www.pfeifferphd.com.