Most people think of stress as something that weighs heavily only on your mind and emotions. Its effects, however, can also produce a physical response in your body that can have far-reaching consequences on your overall health.
Your body contains many different organs and systems that work symbiotically to react to both short term and long term mood and anxiety. Learning exactly what those pangs of physical reactions are doing to your body and how to properly manage these situations can help you overcome the mental and physical challenges they present.
Spotting the First Signs
When high-stress situations occur, your brain chemistry and hormone production changes, causing a cascade of reactions down to the rest of your body. Your adrenal system kicks in and the hormone, cortisol, is produced, which has a variety of effects.
At the first sign of anxiety, your heart rate increases, breathing becomes rapid, and the lungs take in more oxygen. Blood flow may actually increase 300%–400% in order to prime the muscles, lungs, and brain. To cope with your body's increased oxygen demands, the spleen becomes more active and discharges more red and white blood cells.
If your voice suddenly becomes creaky or squeaky, or there's a tightness in your throat when you swallow, it's because the body is dispensing fluids from nonessential areas, such as your mouth, to more essential areas of the body, often leaving you with a dry throat. Blood flow gets redirected from the skin so that the supply can be concentrated on the heart and muscle tissues. This is why muscles tighten up, and your skin can feel cold and clammy.
Cortisol also causes the liver produce more glucose, the main fuel your body uses for energy. For most people, excess glucose can be reabsorbed if it isn't used, but if you already have trouble balancing your blood sugar levels, excess glucose can make your levels spike even higher. And one of the more day-to-day effects of stress can be the compromising of your immune system. Once again, cortisol is the main culprit because it suppresses your immune system function, leaving you more susceptible to inflammation and infections.
The Body's Worries Over Time
One of the main concerns about anxiety is if it's constantly present. Besides causing an immediate physical reaction, the long-term effects can negatively influence other important areas of your health, leading to digestion problems, changes in metabolism, and increasing your chances of developing an ulcer. Studies have also linked it to weakened respiratory function.
Those who experience constant anxiety and periods of low moods are more at risk for heart-related concerns due to increased blood flow, higher blood pressure, and an increase in cortisol production. Cortisol is a means to increase blood flow to give you the energy needed to deal with the situation, however, too much of it can overwork the cardiovascular system, eventually weakening it.
Dealing with the Daily Distractions
You cannot completely avoid frustrating situations; it's a natural response of human nature. But there are some immediate and simple ways to deal with it.
Taking a few deep breaths or counting slowly to 10 when you start to feel anxious can help you control the immediate impact it can have on your day. According to the American Heart Association, 10 minutes of peace, quiet, and slow breathing can help you alleviate the influence of stress on your mind and allow your body to relax.
Positive reaffirmation can be beneficial to calming those moments where you feel overwhelmed. Similarly you can find solace throughout your day with common practices such as meditation, yoga, or exercise.
Remaining Aware of the Mind and Body
It's important to pay attention to how much stress you are dealing with in your life and take the appropriate action to avoid the negative health consequences. Give your mind and body the daily support you need so you can take on the task at hand and allowing yourself to maintain a healthy mind and body.