Don't Mess With Stress!

Lately it seems like we're all drowning in stress, but is stress as harmless as it is common?  Unfortunately, it may not be.  Stress can have a profound effect on the body that can lead to long-term health issues if left unchecked. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress can affect numerous systems in the body-the very systems that are keeping us alive!

Stress can wreak havoc on your following systems:

Musculoskeletal System

When the body is stressed, it can cause muscles to tense up, particularly in the shoulders, neck, and head, which can lead to migraines and tension headaches.

Respiratory System

Stress can lead to shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and exacerbate symptoms in those with pre-existing respiratory diseases.

Cardiovascular System

Stress can cause an increase in heart rate and lead to the release of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol), which can be harmful to the body long-term. Chronic stress can lead to ongoing problems with heart and blood pressure, which can increase susceptibility to hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.

Endocrine & Nervous Systems

Prolonged stress results in the release of cortisol that protects us from harm, i.e., fight or flight, but can also impede functioning of the immune system and lead to physical and mental issues, such as depressions and metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes).

Gastrointestinal System

Stress can lead to the increase or decrease in the consumption of food or different (unhealthy) foods that can affect gut health (remember the gut is the “second brain”) and can lead to experiencing depressive symptoms. It can also result in bloating, gas production, and changes in bowel movements.

Reproductive System

Stress can lead to a decrease in sexual desire and can cause erectile dysfunction and impede sperm production and maturation in cis men. In cis women and people who menstruate, chronic stress can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, painful periods, and impact the ability to conceive.

While acute stress may not be completely harmful, if stressful situations and life events are not dealt with, acute stress can easily become chronic stress, which can leave a lasting impact on one’s physical and mental health, as well as overall quality of life. Take the time and make an effort to deal with your daily stressors and long-term stressors as soon as possible.

These stress management tips can help:

1. Read a book and/or listen to music.  Reading can reduce stress by 68% and listening to music can reduce it by 61%!   (Check out our self-care inspiration page for our curated picks.)
2. Do consistent body checks
3. Try deep breathing exercises
4. Practice daily progressive muscle relaxation (shop muscle relief)
5. Try mindfulness meditation (shop calming aromatherapy roller)
6. Prayer or spiritual mantras
7. Practice journaling (shop our journals)
8. Engage with your social support 
9. Exercise regularly
10. Improve your diet (limit processed foods and eat more fruits and vegetables)
11. Get good quality sleep
12. Seek counseling or support groups
13.  Engage in a hobby (one that you truly enjoy and not one that you feel obligated to do)

Whatever you do, don't ignore your body's signs of stress.  Take a break and do what is right for you.  

This post was created as part of a collaborative series on mental health and wellness with Belle Pensée for informational purposes only.  Belle Pensée was created by a school psychologist to make mental health support free and accessible and to foster a supportive community for people struggling with mental health.

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