4 Ways Stress Impacts Your Health (and How to Handle Them)

For many people, stress is a reality of living in the modern world. According to The Recovery Village, about 33% of Americans, or one in three people, suffers from extreme stress. Meanwhile, 77% of people, or just over three in four, experience stress that impacts their physical health. The organization also indicated that, for around half of us, stress levels are worsening rather than improving. 

Some stress in your life is normal and to be expected. Between work, family, friends, relationships, health, and all the other obligations of life, it is almost impossible to eliminate stress entirely. 

But what about when a normal level of stress becomes something more problematic? In today’s post, we will look at 4 ways that stress can directly impact your health and offer some solutions to help you handle them.

Stress can cause headaches

Does your head start to pound when you think about all the different things on your plate? Stress is an extremely common cause of headaches, particularly tension-type headaches and migraines. If you already suffer from headaches or migraines, stress can also increase their frequency, intensity, or duration. 

Sometimes, other physical reactions to stress—such as tensing your shoulders, grinding your teeth, or stiffening your muscles—can directly lead to headaches. Therefore, next time you start to feel stressed, try to pay attention to where you’re holding it in your body. Make a conscious effort to unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, and relax your muscles. 

Relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and deep breathing can also help to control stress-induced headaches. Doing other activities you find relaxing, such as reading a book, watching a funny TV show, cuddling your pet, or engaging in a hobby can also help. 

Stress can upset your stomach

Stress can play havoc with your digestive system. In some people, it can slow down digestion, which can cause constipation as well as painful bloating of your stomach. In others, it can speed it up, causing diarrhea. If you already have any kind of digestive condition, stress can make it worse. 

Taking general steps to reduce stress in your life, such as seeking mental health support and trying the relaxation techniques we mentioned above, can significantly improve your gastrointestinal symptoms. 

You can also help your gut to cope during stressful times by watching what you eat. Processed foods, high in saturated fat and sugar, tend to worsen these symptoms, while eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean meat and fish can lessen them. You should also consider consulting your doctor or a dietician to ensure that food intolerances aren’t making your problem worse. 

Stress can damage your immune system 

Have you ever noticed that when you’re chronically stressed, you get sick more often? That’s because stress has a direct impact on your immune system, reducing its ability to fight off illness and disease. The stress hormone corticosteroid, the impact of stress on digestion, and the increased strain that stress places on the circulatory system are all thought to be factors. 

You can encourage optimal immune functioning by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, staying up to date with your vaccinations and immunizations, and getting plenty of high quality sleep. But if you find that you are getting sick more often than usual, stress may well be the culprit. 

Stress can encourage harmful behaviors

Many of the common health issues related to stress are not directly caused by the stress itself, but by how you respond to it. 

Studies have shown that stress in adults is related to risk-taking behavior, which can put you in danger. Some examples of common risky behaviors might include driving too fast, excessive gambling, or having unprotected sex. 

Other potentially harmful behaviors related to stress may be the very things you use to reduce the stress in the short term. Do you drink too much alcohol, engage in disordered eating (such as binge eating or starving yourself), smoke, abuse substances, or spend money impulsively when you are stressed? All of these habits can make you feel better in the moment, but can have significant consequences for your health and quality of life later. 

If you are undertaking any dangerous behaviors as a result of stress, or feel as though you are in danger of doing so, see your doctor or a mental health professional immediately.

Learn More About Reducing Stress

The best way to reduce stress is often to tackle the root cause of the issues that are stressing you out. It’s also important to see a qualified professional if stress is seriously impacting your quality of life. 

The American Institute of Stress offers numerous excellent resources on understanding and reducing stress, and Healthline suggests 15 simple ways to reduce stress in your life. 

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