How Stress Affects Your Health

Have you been struggling with lingering headaches, fatigue, or lack of motivation? While you may assume that these conditions are due to an illness or your sleep patterns, you should also consider that they could be linked to chronic stress. Chronic stress can affect your body, mood, and behavior. It may also have severe effects on your health that are tough to reverse if not managed early. While stress affects everyone differently, the most common related health problems are:

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue/restlessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of focus
  • Muscle tension (especially in the shoulders)
  • Irritability/quick to anger
  • Sadness/feelings of depression
  • Tobacco/alcohol use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Change in appetite (over- or under-eating)

If these symptoms occur too often or last too long, they can snowball into bigger health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, depression, or accelerated aging. It could also make it more difficult for your body to fight off viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.

The good news is that there are many healthy ways you can manage your stress. Every person is different, so try not to give up if the first method you try does not relieve your symptoms. Here are a few things you can try to lower your stress levels:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can boost your mood and energy levels while reducing stress. Yoga and tai chi can be effective tools, or even simply taking a walk.
  • Deep breathing or meditation: Focusing on your breathing can relax your muscles and mind. This can be done by sitting or lying in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and inhaling and exhaling slowly. Massages can also help you relax and release tension.
  • Focus on healthy habits: “Stress eating” is a common way that people deal with a stressful situation. While it may distract you and make you feel better in the short term, it can lead to obesity and other health problems in the long run. Concentrate on eating a balanced diet, which will help you feel better overall and keep you alert. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol intake and make sure to get plenty of sleep.
  • Talk to your family or friends: Lean on your support system during tough times and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may also consider seeing a physician or counselor to assist in managing your stress.