by Christina Lafferty-Neal
How many emails are in your inbox right now? How many notifications are on your phone? Those little red bubbles probably mean someone needs something, right? Do you have bills? Of course you do. How about your diet today? Have you worked out, yet? Did you get enough sleep last night? Drink enough water? How about your social interactions? Were you nice to people? We know, sometimes that one is hard. What about your productivity at work? When was the last time you called your Mom? Laundry? Dishes? It’s overwhelming isn’t it! Day in and day out there are responsibilities that weigh us down – and these are only casual, daily tasks. Add in an actual life changing event and its hard to imagine dealing with it all at once. From the moment our alarm goes off, we spend our day getting pulled in more directions than we are meant to handle. The fact of the matter is – people today spend the majority of their time feeling stressed out.
It’s a lot, y’all. We are in the midst of a society working longer hours, for less money, while cost rise. We are trying to get more done than ever. And we’ve blurred the lines of our private and professional lives, working all hours of the day on projects we are passionate about. Our gadgets are always in our hand, notifying us of the newest update, issue, or message. People are spread too thin and struggling to keep up. If we know anything about healthcare these days, we know that stress has taken a toll on our mental health. It’s time we acknowledge these stress factors are also detrimental to our physical health.
According to the APA’s 2012 Stress in America survey, more than 40 percent of adults said stress kept them awake at night. In 2018, the same survey shows that the leading stressor for about 60 percent of adults is related to personal health concerns or health problems affecting their family. Despite this, 33 percent of those Americans report never discussing ways to manage that stress with a healthcare provider. Most people aren’t fully aware of the damage that can be done by chronic stress until something serious happens.
Now, we should admit that not all stress is bad stress. Cortisol isn’t exactly our enemy here. There are times we need it to thrive. Like when we are preparing for an amazing job interview, buying a house, or competing in a sport. That healthy dose of cortisol and adrenaline become a positive force in performance when the situation is less threatening.
However, our body cannot differentiate between good and bad stress, which is a problem because we have the same hardwired response regardless of the trigger. When these hormones flood our body, our lungs will abruptly take in more oxygen to push throughout the bloodstream. Our heartbeat and blood pressure are raised. All other functions are put on hold to reserve the energy needed to escape the “stressor.” More times then not, the source of our anxiety isn’t life-threatening and our bodies hold on to the unresolved stress for an extended period of time.
If you’re exhausted, experiencing stomach pain, changes in weight, inconsistent sleep patterns, feeling depressed or anxious, and/or get sick often, stress could be the culprit. Any of these could actually mean your body has been stuck in it’s ‘flight’ state for far too long. If unmanaged, repeated exposure to emotional distress can lead to health problems. In order to defend itself, the body will stay in survival mode.
Chronic stress lowers immune functioning as well. Meaning, stress can inhibit the body’s ability to heal itself, putting you at risk for a variety of issues – ranging from obesity, anxiety, and depression, to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other various chronic illnesses that can only be truly addressed through changes in lifestyle.
So now, as if all our daily stresses were not enough, we are stressed about stress and its effects on our internal clockwork. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to work through it. There are also preventive measures you can take. Keep reading to note just a few.
Slow down. I know people are busy, but I promise, unless you find some time in your day to be still and recharge, your busyness will only lead to long term problems. You cannot continue to pour from an empty cup forever. Try turning off your phone after a certain hour, going out for a walk to get some fresh air, or making mindfulness meditation a routine. Finding joy, time to play, and having human connection is just as important for your health as your business is for your career.
Make time to move. Whatever form of movement works best for you – do it. This is the best way to work off built up energy that turns into frustration or irritation if left unreleased. Let go of some tension and let your mind check out for a bit. Since mental stress has such an enormous impact on our physical health, making time to move is one of the best ways you can fight off chronic illness. Prioritizing exercise has also been proven to reduce fear and increase self-confidence when facing everyday challenges. It also builds a strong foundation of will power, which can transfer to other areas of like and promote similar healthy decisions.
Practice gratitude. Try this – 1. Place your hand on your heart to remind yourself you are a living, breathing, miracle. 2. Take 10 deep breaths, filing your lungs to push out your ribs and feel your belly expand. 3. Say the names of 3 people you love and one thing that you are grateful for. Now how do you feel?
Remember you’re just a person. Stress will always come and go. Try not to let it overwhelm you. When it does, ask for help. And most importantly – be kind to yourself.