We're living in very uncertain times right now, and that uncertainty is causing many people a great deal of stress. The body's fight or flight response was designed to protect us and propel us into action in times of perceived danger, but when left on for prolonged periods, the chemicals released by our brain can have negative impacts on our health.
It's easy to see how anxiety and tension affect our mood and mental health, but they also cause harmful side effects for our physical health. Here we'll examine how stress manifests in the body and how you can combat its effects.
How Stress Affects the Body
Stress causes the muscles to tense up all at once and then release their tension when it passes. Chronic stress keeps the muscles in a constant state of alert. When muscles are taut and tense for prolonged periods, this can trigger other reactions in the body and even cause stress-related disorders. Tension headaches and migraine headaches are both associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck, and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the lower back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.
Constant stress can also contribute to long-term problems for the heart and blood vessels. A consistent increase in heart rate, along with elevated levels of stress hormones and blood pressure, can exact a toll on the body. Long-term stress can increase the risk of hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.
Experiencing stressors for an extended time can result in a long-term drain on the body. The continuous triggering of physical reactions by the autonomic nervous system causes wear-and-tear on the body. Not only does chronic stress cause fatigue and inflammation, but the continuous activation of the nervous system also damages other bodily systems.
Laughter Really Is Medicine
In times of distress, it can be challenging to remember the things that bring us joy or keep us calm. It requires effort to stay well-balanced in times of adversity. But research suggests that one of the best things you can do to relieve stress is to laugh.
Laughing doesn't just lighten your mood mentally; it actually causes physical changes in your body. A good laugh stimulates circulation and relaxes muscles, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and lowering immunity. Conversely, positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help fight stress and other serious illnesses. Whether it's phoning a friend, watching a funny video or your favorite sitcom, find ways to introduce more laughter into your life. It may not solve all your problems, but it can help you stay calm enough to make sound decisions.
Tips for Relaxation
There are a number of beneficial tools to curtail worry and its harmful effects on your health. They include:
- Leaning on a healthy social support network
- Getting adequate sleep
- Regular exercise
- Online therapy apps with licensed therapists
Laughter, relaxation techniques, therapy, and other stress-relieving activities have shown to effectively reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, and increase a sense of well-being. Who knows, now might be the perfect time to incorporate some of these practices into your life.