Stress is part of a typical day for many of us. Between work, family, and personal obligations, it seems unavoidable. But stress can be affecting your body and health in ways you don’t realize.
If you often feel stressed, you are not alone. Seventy two percent of adults say they feel stressed about money at least part of the time, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 Stress in America survey. The survey found, money is the most common cause of stress among Americans; other top stressors include work, the economy, family responsibilities, and personal health.
Read on to learn what constant worry about your job or obligations might be doing to your body. Then, browse a list of recommendations to learn how to cut back on the amount of stress you feel.
Stress can make you more likely to have a heart attack or stroke
Stress can increase your heart rate and cause your body to release noradrenaline, adrenaline, and cortisol. Your blood vessels can swell, the American Psychological Association states, causing your blood pressure to rise. Furthermore, stress likely causes some of your arteries to become inflamed.
Because of this, chronic stress can lead to hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. It can also be a drain on other parts of your body.
Stress might make you less productive
If you are constantly stressed at work, you might be getting less done during the day. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, both short-term and chronic stress can affect your concentration and memory.
While short-term stress hurts your immediate memory, it can help you concentrate on the specific task at hand, according to UMD. However, the university adds, constant stress makes it hard to concentrate, and it can actually shrink the area where your brain stores memories. You might become inefficient and prone to accidents.
Stress can cause physical pain
You’ve probably noticed that your muscles feel tight when you’re stressed. The American Psychological Association explains that muscle tension is your body’s natural reaction to guard against pain and injury.
But, when you are constantly stressed, all that tension can cause headaches, including migraines. It can also wear on your muscles and cause pain, according to the association.
Stress can increase your risk for diabetes and other illnesses
When your body starts to react to stress, some of those reactions cause your liver to produce more of the blood sugar glucose, according to the American Psychological Association. That’s designed to give you extra energy to fight or flee in an emergency.
Often, the stress we face today — such as that related to our jobs or family — doesn’t require us to fight or flee, so we don’t use up that extra sugar. While the association notes that most people can absorb the extra glucose if they don’t need the energy, it adds that the extra sugar might spell trouble for those who are obese or already at risk for diabetes. But, according to the association, you can control your blood sugar level if you learn to manage your stress.
Chronic stress can also weaken your immune system or put you at risk for a major illness, including obesity. It can even make you more likely to get a cold or infection, according to the American Institute of Stress, or to break out in a rash or hives.
Stress can alter your emotions
Aside from making us worry, stress can have a variety of other effects on your emotions and mental health.
The American Institute of Stress says that constant stress might cause you to be anxious or nervous. People who are stressed might get angry or frustrated quicker, or have wild mood swings. Stress might make you defensive or suspicious, the institute notes, or make you tired or weak. Many people who are stressed start avoiding social situations.
How to cut down your stress
It isn’t possible to remove everything that causes stress from your life. But, you can manage how you react to your stressors.
Don’t be afraid to turn to friends or family for help or to talk when you feel stressed out. The American Psychological Association found in its survey that people who had emotional support often felt less stressed than those who didn’t have anyone to talk with.
The association recommends getting enough sleep each night to help reset your mind. Of course, stress might be keeping you awake, but you can still cut back on caffeine and try some relaxing yoga poses or other meditation to help calm down.
And, as the Mayo Clinic points out, regular exercise or activity can also help you stay calm and help counteract some of the effects stress has on your body.