The impacts of stress in our body and how to cope with them

Stress is the body’s natural response to different situations. Most of the times stress is triggered when we experience something new and unexpected or something we perceive as threatening. Everyone deals with stress differently and the ability to cope with it depends on different factors, such as genetics, early life events, environmental and socioeconomical circumstances. Whenever we are stressed, our body produces stress hormones and as a result a fight or flight response and immune system are activated; this reaction is helpful as it helps us act fast in dangerous situations. Stress hormones will return back to normal levels, once the situation that triggered the response is over and will not cause any long-lasting effects in our body. However, excessive levels of stress can negatively impact our body, it can cause us to be in a constant fight or flight state, making us feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. If this continues for a long-term period, it can significantly impact our physical and mental health.

Signs of stress

Sometimes can be exhibited in ways that are not easily recognised. Stress can show up as a muscle tension, headache, upset stomach and problems sleeping. Other indicators of stress include worry and rumination thoughts before going to sleep and anxiety-filled dreams.

Chronic stress activates the sympathetic system and HPA axis and our body is unable to relax and bring the stress hormones to normal levels. As a result, our body continues to release cortisol and adrenaline, overstimulating us. If this continues in a long-term, it can lead to our muscles remaining tense, causing migraines and tension headaches, the heart rate and blood pressure remaining high, increasing the risk of developing hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

Below there are some things that you can practice in your daily life that will help you reduce stress and make you feel more relaxed.

1. Recognize your symptoms

It is important to be able to identify the signs of stress and the effects of it on your body. Most of the times, people overlook the signs of stress (headaches, muscle tension, etc.) and as a result the problem becomes worse.

2. Build supportive relationships

A good way of managing stress is to share your concerns and problems with those you trust. Sharing your problem with family and friends can help you release the stress you are feeling about a certain situation or life event.

3. Have a healthy diet

It is well known that eating healthy meals can significantly benefit our physical wellbeing. However, healthy diet can help elevate your mood and consequently reduce stress levels.

4. Exercise regularly

When we exercise our body produces endorphins that help elevate our mood. Even 15-20 minutes of walking a day can make a significant difference in your overall wellbeing.

5. Practise breathing deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques

Research has shown that practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing and muscle relaxation for a few minutes every day can reduce stress levels and improve wellbeing.

6. Be grateful for your achievements

Sometimes when we are stressed, we overlook our achievements because we focus on the negative things and our daily struggles. Start focusing on the positive things in your life and write down the things you are grateful for.

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, then it would be beneficial to seek professional help. Talk to your GP about your symptoms, they should be able to advise you on treatment and may refer you to a mental health professional. There are always people willing to support you, remember you are not alone!