How Stress is Impacting Your Health

Stressed Business Woman

Stress is a common and inevitable factor in our lives. We may not know exactly what will stress us out in the coming weeks, but we know something will. Despite how often we find ourselves stressed or under stress, studies show most people don’t handle stress in a productive and healthy manner. Furthermore, stress’s effect on physical health, most notably the heart, are well-documented. Long-term stress can weaken your heart, exposing you to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. Protecting yourself against negative stress is one of the best ways to protect your heart.

Stress is your body’s natural, physical response to many types of external events. It’s impossible to eliminate every source of stress from your life, but you can learn what causes stress, how to manage it, and how to respond to it in a healthy way.

What Stress Does to Your Body

Aside from directly causing physical ailments, stress can prompt you to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like over-eating or abusing alcohol, which in turn, can have a negative effect on your body. If not handled properly, stress creates a cycle of bad health.

How unmanaged or negatively managed stress harms the body:

  • Your Heart: Sustained levels of stress can cause irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to artery walls, and a high heart rate. Over time, all of these can lead to serious problems, like a heart attack or stroke. Severe and sudden stress (such as the death of a loved one, experiencing a trauma, etc.) has been identified as a cause of heart attacks. This phenomenon is known as a stress cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome,” and it is much more common in women than in men.
  • Your Body: Stress is more closely linked to weight gain for women than it is for men. Stress increases the amount of cortisol in the body, a hormone that can lead to over-eating or stress-eating. Stress may trigger the consumption of unhealthy foods that are high in trans and saturated fats, sugar, and caffeine.
  • Your Reproductive System: Women who experience high amounts of stress are more likely to experience infertility than their non-stressed counterparts. Long-term and recurring stress can also cause irregular periods or extreme PMS symptoms. Additionally, women experiencing high amounts of stress may find it difficult to become aroused, experiencing a decrease in sex drive.
  • Your Stomach: Stress can cause stomach issues like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Prolonged stress can lead to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) development, flare ups, and/or can exacerbate the symptoms of an existing IBS condition. IBS is twice as common in women as in men. Long-term stress has also been known to lead to the development of stomach or intestinal ulcers.
  • Your Well-being: Both short-term and long-term stress can seriously impact both your mental and physical health.  If you’re pre-disposed to conditions like depression or anxiety, stress can weaken your defenses against them. Stress can cause chronic headaches, migraines, and other bodily aches and pains. Additionally, stress is known to weaken your immune system, which can open the door to other infections and/or viruses.

What You Can Do to Combat Stress

  • Learn About Your Habits: Every person responds to stress differently, so it’s important to recognize coping mechanisms that work for you. The next time you experience stress, take note of your tendencies and response. Do you overeat or abuse alcohol? Do you bury yourself in your work? Do you procrastinate, hoping your stress source will go away?  If any of these apply to you, it may be time to reassess your coping mechanisms and replace them with healthy alternatives. 
  • Take Up a Healthy Hobby: Hobbies can be a productive way to take your mind off the source of your stress. One major way to combat stress is too simply make intentional time in your day to experience a positive emotion. As they say, laughter is the best medicine. Find an activity you enjoy and can commit to regularly. Up your commitment by getting a friend involved to keep you accountable and provide you with some companionship.
  • Get Active: Exercise of any kind combats stress in a healthy, productive way. It releases endorphins, which help improve your mood. If the thought of going to the gym makes you cringe, look into fun alternatives like dancing, yoga, or an outdoor activity. Struggling in the morning but don’t have time for a full workout? Take a few minutes to stretch and breathe deeply.
  • Draw Boundaries: It can be difficult to prevent negative stress if you don’t disconnect from the root cause. If it’s work, learn to draw boundaries between your work and personal life. Try unplugging from social media or technology for a while. If you’re having trouble stepping away from your stressors, you may benefit from speaking to a professional.

If you’re worried about the side effects of stress and/or the ways you’re managing stress, your Capital Women’s Care provider is always available to talk to you about your cardiac health, other risks associated with stress, and ways you can proactively manage your stress levels for a healthier and happier life.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.

 

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