If you have persistent physical symptoms that you can't explain, it might be time to stop looking for an outside cause and start looking at how stress may be affecting your body. The following can all be bodily symptoms of stress:
- Constant headaches and migraines
- Constant nausea and that feeling of having a 'knot' in your stomach
- A stiff neck and on-going pain in the shoulder
- A dry mouth
- Appetite changes (increased or decreased)
- Chest pains and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds
- Loss of sex drive
- Constant weariness, waking up feeling exhausted
The damaging effects of stress
For many of us, being stressed is so commonplace that it’s become a way of life. And since the world we live in is peppered with obstacles and frustrations, and driven by deadlines and demands, it’s hardly surprising that stress now accounts for between 70 and 90 percent of visits to the doctor these days.
Although stress has been associated with a higher risk for whole range of conditions including depression and infectious diseases for many years, the link was only recently clarified by a research team at Carnegie Mellon University in the US. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response, which is partly regulated by cortisol. Prolonged stress alters cortisol’s effectiveness, producing levels of inflammation that promote disease, including cardiovascular (heart) disease, asthma and autoimmune disorders, and viruses such as colds and flu.
Then there are the high levels of adrenaline, another stress hormone, that are pumped around your body when you’re chronically stressed. Since adrenaline raises the level of acid your stomach produces, this can eventually lead to stomach ulcers, making it one of the culprits for the heartburn you may experience when under pressure.
Furthermore, stress suppresses your immune system. Stress can also bring on an acute attack in patients suffering from arthritis, acne, psoriasis or multiple sclerosis (MS) and can also cause elevated blood pressure, which can be extremely dangerous. High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most dangerous physical effects of chronic stress and can lead to cardiovascular (heart) disease.
How to manage your stress
Effective stress management requires an individualised approach as everyone is different, so you need to find out what works for you. Here are general guidelines for stress-busting techniques:
- Follow a healthy eating plan
- Exercise regularly
- Take up meditation, yoga or Tai Chi to still the mind
- Share your problems with family, friends or a mental healthcare professional
- Find the time to do something you enjoy
- Quit smoking
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants
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