What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s natural response to challenges or demands. Various factors, including work, relationships, financial problems, and health issues, can cause it. When stressed, your body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can help you feel more alert and focused. However, too much stress can negatively affect your physical and mental health. In this article, we shall discuss how stress affects the body.
We shall also look at one of my client’s personal stories and how stress was manifesting as deceiving symptoms in the body and left him with multiple diagnoses before being referred to me to seek solutions rather than answers.
It’s important to remember that everyone experiences stress differently, and what may be a minor stressor for one person could be a significant stressor for someone else. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as through exercise, relaxation techniques, or counselling, is also vital. Unmanaged stress can lead to more severe health problems in the long term. Therefore we shall also discuss some simple ways to manage your stress more effectively.
How stress affects the body
Stress can have a wide range of effects on the body, both physically and emotionally. Therefore, becoming aware of your bodily sensations when it comes to stress pays dividends, as these are indicators that you can observe/feel and know when it’s time to rest.
Some common physical effects of stress include:
- Increased heart rate
- Stomach problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches and pains, particularly in the back, neck, and shoulders
- Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
Emotional symptoms of stress can include:
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
What are the signs of chronic stress?
There are many signs and symptoms of chronic stress, and they can vary from person to person. Some common signs and symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Persistent feelings of anxiety or nervousness
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent waking during the night
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Constant feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Irritability or anger
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
Not all symptoms can link to stress; for example, gut problems and headaches are two issues prominent in society but not always put down to chronic stress. People tend to identify themselves as someone with issues with their gut and therefore get labelled as having IBS or similar. Whilst this diagnosis may be correct, going down the route of IBS treatment may help. It’s only treating symptoms, where physiological management is more likely to fix the cause and, therefore, the overall condition.
A client of mine is a primary example of this situation. Nathan, a 23-year-old male from Western Australia, was struggling physically. After some hardship and going through the pandemic, he noticed pains in his stomach and always felt exhausted. He bounced from specialist to specialist, all of which gave him a different diagnosis based on their interpretation of the issue from their perspective. For example, the endocrinologist sent him to get lots of blood tests for hormones and then treated him based on these. The sleep physician ran a sleep test and found no issues. This continued until a neurologist reached out to me to see how much his breathing impacted his stress and vice versa.
We found signs of dysfunctional breathing. However, after our initial consult, it was clear he was more anxious about his sensations than hindered by the symptoms themselves. He was still living a relatively everyday life. Still, he just stressed that he wasn’t feeling ‘good’, yet within eight weeks of working together to build a better strategy to manage his stress and anxiety and improve his breathing. After that, his symptoms massively faded, and he felt like he was feeling relatively normal again.
Whilst this may seem relatively simple, it took Nathan years to understand consciously that the pressure and stress he was putting on himself manifested within his body despite ‘feeling’ relaxed in his mind.
You can see what Nathan said about the Empowered Performer program.
How to best manage stress?
There are many ways to manage stress, and the best approach for you will depend on your individual needs and circumstances. However, some strategies that may help manage stress include:
- Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce stress by releasing endorphins, natural, feel-good chemicals.
- Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga are all relaxation techniques that can help reduce stress.
- Healthy lifestyle habits: Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding or limiting alcohol and tobacco can all help reduce stress.
- Time management: Prioritizing tasks, setting aside time for relaxation and enjoyable activities, and learning to say “no” can help reduce stress.
- Support: Connecting with friends, family, or a support group can provide emotional support and help you feel less alone.
- Counselling: A mental health professional can help you develop coping strategies and support managing stress.
It’s essential to find what works best for you and to make time for self-care. Taking care of yourself can help you feel better and be more resilient in the face of stress. Not just about managing the levels but also becoming personally aware of how stress affects the body.
The Empowered performer program is designed to help you build and implement a strategy to reduce your stress by 50% in just eight weeks. In doing so, you will feel more focused, calm and energized. You can check out the program here and book an intial conversation should you feel called to do so.