Most people pay little attention to stress, even when they may focus on their physical wellbeing. This can be a problem, because stress affects us in many ways, affecting our health and the way we interact with others. By recognizing how stress affects us, it becomes easier to see why reducing stress is so important to our overall mental and physical health.
Stress is our body's reaction to external stimuli and it allows us to react to those conditions for our own preservation. Long ago, that system of automatic responses meant the difference between life or death. When an individual sensed a threat from a superior predator, the body reacted by producing vast amounts of stress hormones. This caused the body to experience an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and a boost of energy. All of these factors worked together to help the individual to either flee, or fight the predator.
We still experience that type of stress today, but, because our lives are rarely in danger, there's really no outlet for it. We experience sweaty palms and an upset stomach, just before an important interview, or we may feel on edge, after getting into a fight with a family member. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as heart disease, this heightened level of stress can actually cause a medical emergency.
Even if you don't experience a heart attack, or similar emergency, the stress can remain and accumulate in your system. This can lead to a host of other problems, affecting your physical and mental health, as well as your behavioral patterns. Research has found that unresolved stress can change us in many ways and result in harmful consequences.
Stress first begins to affect cognitive functioning, affecting our ability to concentrate and memory recall. It can even create a "brain fog" that inhibits our ability to make good judgments, as well as our ability to complete complex tasks. It can also lead to self-esteem problems, if it becomes severe enough. This can lead to mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety.
It doesn't take long for stress to affect our physical bodies, as well. If you're trying to lose weight and finding it difficult, stress may be playing a factor. When stress hormones flood the body, they affect the body's ketone production, a process that helps the body convert fat into energy. Additionally, heightened stress can weaken the body's immune system, making you more susceptible to aches and pains, colds, skin conditions, and illnesses.
As stress continues to build, it can affect the way we behave, compelling us to withdraw from others and seek more solitude. Often, heightened stress leads people to abuse drugs and alcohol as a means of coping, which can ultimately lead to addiction problems. People suffering from unrelieved stress also become more irritable, partly because they experience sleep difficulties, and they lose their sense of humor. It's also common to experience a drain, or a loss, of motivation. Too much stress forces us to lose interest in the things we once found important and worthwhile.
Reducing your stress levels is just as important to your health as eating right and getting enough exercise. In fact, increasing the time you spend engaged in physical activity is one of the best ways to deal with stress. Moderate to strenuous exercise helps burn off the excess stress hormones circulating throughout your body.
Additional practices and activities for reducing stress include any of the following:
These are just a few suggestions, but any activity that you enjoy can help reduce stress. If you're saying to yourself that you don't have time for a new hobby, that should be a warning sign that you do need to reduce the stress in your life. By making time to relax and unwind, you'll feel happier and your mind will be clearer. Regular stress reduction techniques can even make you more productive and motivate you to follow your dreams.