Stress does not merely afflict your mind; it can also affect you on a cellular level. In fact, long-term stress can lead to a wide range of illnesses – from headaches to stomach disorders to depression – and can even increase the risk of serious conditions like stroke and heart disease. Understanding the mind/stress/health connection can help you better manage stress and improve your health and well-being.
The Fight or Flight Response – The sympathetic stress response is a survival mechanism that’s “hard wired” into our nervous systems. This automatic response is necessary for mobilizing quick reflexes when there is imminent danger, such as swerving to avoid a car crash.
When you perceive a threat, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream—increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Other hormones also suppress functions like digestion and the immune system, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress can leave you more vulnerable to illness.
Danger triggers the stress response – but, unfortunately, so can work conflicts, worry over debt, bad memories, or anxiety. Although one bad day at work won’t compromise your health, weeks or months of stress can dampen your immune response and raise your risk for disease.
Combat Your Stress – If you suffer from chronic stress and can’t influence or change the situation, then you’ll need to change your approach. Be willing to be flexible. Remember, you have the ability to choose your response to stressors, and you may have to try various options.
- Recognize when you don’t have control, and let it go.
- Don’t get anxious about situations that you cannot change.
- Take control of your own reactions, and focus on what makes you feel calm and in control. This may take some practice, but it pays off in peace of mind.
- Develop a vision for healthy living, wellness, and personal- professional growth.
- Set realistic goals to help you realize your vision.
Relax and Recharge – Be sure to make time for fun and relaxation so you’ll be better able to handle life’s stressors. Carve some time out of your day – even 10 to 15 minutes – to take care of yourself. Also, remember that exercise is an excellent stress reliever.
Everyone is different, and so are the ways they like to relax and unwind. Here are some ideas:
- Take a walk
- Read a book
- Go for a run
- Have a cup of tea
- Play a sport
- Spend time with a friend or loved one
- Meditate (learn how in the sidebar)
- Do yoga
While you can’t avoid stress, you can minimize it by changing how you choose to respond to it. The ultimate reward for your efforts is a healthy, balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun.