In the hustle and bustle of modern life, stress has become an unwelcome companion for many people. While some stress may be unavoidable, these feelings should be fleeting not chronic.

What’s more, there are healthy ways to build resilience and alleviate stress. Plus, the more we understand, the more we’re able to avoid the situations we know will stress us out.

National Stress Awareness Month, observed annually in April, serves as a crucial reminder of the profound impact stress can have on our overall well-being. It’s an opportune time to delve into the negative repercussions of stress on both physical and mental health, while also emphasizing the importance of effective stress management strategies.

Keep reading to learn more.

How Does Stress Impact Physical Health?

Stress doesn’t merely manifest as a temporary feeling of unease; it can wreak havoc on our physical health if left unchecked. Chronic stress has been linked to various ailments, including cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, and digestive issues. The body’s natural response to stress, often referred to as the “fight or flight” response, triggers a cascade of physiological changes aimed at preparing us to confront or flee from perceived threats.

During this response, the adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, which increase heart rate, elevate blood pressure, and boost energy levels. While this response is adaptive in short bursts, prolonged exposure to stressors can lead to sustained elevation of cortisol levels, resulting in detrimental effects on the body. Excessive cortisol can impair glucose metabolism, suppress the immune system, and even contribute to weight gain, particularly around the abdominal region.

How Does Stress Impact Mental Health?

In addition to its effect on physical health, stress can also take a heavy toll on mental well-being. Chronic stress is a known risk factor for anxiety disorders, depression, and other mood disorders. Prolonged exposure to stressors can disrupt neurotransmitter balance in the brain, altering mood regulation and contributing to the development of psychological distress.

Moreover, stress can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, making it harder for individuals to cope with their symptoms effectively. The constant activation of the body’s stress response system can lead to feelings of overwhelm, irritability, and emotional exhaustion—further compromising one’s mental resilience.

Some Symptoms or Signs of Stress

Although stress manifests differently in different people, there are several common physical symptoms/signs that may indicate someone is experiencing stress:

Muscle Tension: Stress often causes muscle tension, leading to headaches, neck or back pain, and jaw clenching or teeth grinding.

Fatigue: Feeling tired all the time or lacking energy despite adequate rest can be a sign of stress.

Digestive Issues: Stress can affect the digestive system, resulting in symptoms such as stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.

Changes in Appetite: Stress can influence eating habits, causing individuals to overeat or undereat.

Weakened Immune System: Prolonged stress can suppress the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections, colds, or other illnesses.

Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: Chronic stress can contribute to long-term cardiovascular issues if left unmanaged.

Skin Issues: Stress can exacerbate existing skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or acne. Additionally, stress may contribute to the development of new skin issues such as hives, rashes, or excessive sweating.

Cognitive Symptoms: Stress can impair cognitive function, leading to difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or racing thoughts. Chronic stress may also contribute to decision-making difficulties or a feeling of mental fog.

It’s important to note that while these physical symptoms may indicate stress, they can also be associated with other medical conditions. If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent or severe physical symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and management. Additionally, addressing the underlying causes of stress can help remove triggers and ultimately lead to a healthier life.

Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

Recognizing the detrimental effects of stress underscores the importance of adopting effective stress management strategies. By implementing healthy coping mechanisms, we can mitigate the negative impact of stress on our physical and mental health while fostering overall well-being.

One effective way to manage stress is through regular physical activity. Exercise not only helps to alleviate tension and promote relaxation but also stimulates the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural mood lifters. Engaging in activities such as yoga, jogging, or swimming can provide a much-needed outlet for stress while improving overall fitness levels.

Another crucial aspect of stress management is prioritizing self-care practices. This includes getting sufficient sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and setting aside time for relaxation and leisure activities. Adequate sleep is essential for restoring the body and mind, while a nutritious diet provides the necessary nutrients to support optimal functioning.

Mindfulness-based practices such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can be invaluable tools for reducing stress levels. These practices promote present-moment awareness and relaxation, helping cultivate a sense of calm during life’s inevitable challenges.

Seeking social support is also paramount in managing stress effectively. Whether through meaningful connections with friends and family or professional counseling, sharing concerns and seeking assistance from others can provide invaluable emotional support and perspective.

Other healthy options include what psychologists refer to as the “G.R.E.A.T.” method and “reframing.”

Feeling Stressed? Get the Help You Need.

If feelings of stress become overwhelming, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available (in English and Spanish) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Simply dial 988.

In an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Only a medical professional can provide information about your particular situation.

Stress at the workplace is all too common, and it can be hard to deal with since most people can’t just quit their job. Consider contacting Active Marion Project at AMP@mchdt.org and scheduling a free workplace wellness session on stress management.

We’d be happy to visit your jobsite and provide your team with tips on how to handle stress in healthy ways. Their well-being will improve, and so will overall job productivity. That’s a win-win!