Practically from the time we’re born, we experience stress. We have to, it’s how we’re hard-wired. And there’s a good reason for this; early humans were hunter-gatherers and had to protect themselves from predators, and stress was their bodies’ way of alerting them via a fight-or-flight response to these potential dangers.
In other words, stress kept them alive.
Physiologically, when a person is feeling physically, mentally or emotionally strained, aka stressed, their body responds by releasing certain hormones, including cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Cortisol increases glucose (sugars) in the bloodstream and lessens nonessential functions in a fight-or-flight situation, including suppressing the reproductive and digestive systems and altering the immune system response.
In the short term, these changes to the body are not harmful as hormone levels will usually return to normal rather quickly, but when a person is constantly stressed and these hormones continue to flood your body, it can become problematic. The body’s overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt the body’s overall system and lead to long-term health problems. According to the Mayo Clinic these issues may include:
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension and pain
- Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
That’s why stress management is so important. And the good news is that there are simple ways to make changes to your daily routine that will help you manage your stress better. Below are some key examples.
- Talk to a trusted confidante. Sharing your feelings with a good friend, psychologist or pastor can help reduce stress in a few ways, including simply serving as a reminder that you’re not alone to cope with life’s challenges.
- Exercise regularly (at least a couple of times a week), eat healthy and make sure to get ample sleep.
- Don’t overdo your alcohol intake as alcohol is a depressant. Drink in moderation, and maybe even consider taking a month off.
- If you haven’t already done so in the past year, go to your primary care physician and get a physical. Sometimes, a person has an underlying physical issue that’s masquerading as ‘regular stress.’ An example of this would be a thyroid issue.
- Make time for friends and family. Sometimes we get so caught up with work we forget about the importance of down-time, including a good laugh; as they say, laughter is the best medicine!
- Don’t sweat the small stuff and make a practice of letting things go that you don’t have control over.