Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.
Chronic stress can wear down the body’s natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including the following:
- Dizziness or a general feeling of “being out of it.”
- General aches and pains.
- Grinding teeth, clenched jaw.
- Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms.
- Increase in or loss of appetite.
- Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders.
- Problems sleeping.
- Racing heart.
- Cold and sweaty palms.
- Tiredness, exhaustion.
- Weight gain or loss.
- Upset stomach, diarrhea.
- Sexual difficulties.
An important step in tackling stress is to realize when it is a problem for you and make a connection between the physical and emotional signs you are experiencing and the pressures you are faced with. It is important not to ignore physical warning signs such as tense muscles, feeling over-tired, and experiencing headaches or migraines.
Once you have recognized you are experiencing stress, try to identify the underlying causes. Sort the possible reasons for your stress into those with a practical solution, those that will get better anyway given time, and those you can’t do anything about. Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve.
Think about a plan to address the things that you can. This might involve setting yourself realistic expectations and prioritizing essential commitments. If you feel overwhelmed, ask people to help with the tasks you have to do and say no to things that you cannot take on.
Over long periods of time, the health consequences to not reducing stress include, but are not limited to:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- a weakened immune system
- sexual dysfunction
- gastrointestinal disorders
- skin irritation
- respiratory infections
- autoimmune diseases
- anxiety disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD