All of us must deal with stress on a daily basis, and we all know that excessive levels of stress or poor stress management can have a dramatic negative impact on our lives. But stress also affects us in some ways that are hard to measure and hard to notice.
What is the full impact of stress on our bodies and minds? And how do we cope with it?
The Invisible Impact of Stress
You probably already know some of the most prominent and easily recognizable signs of stress. Stress can make you feel nervous, anxious, fatigued, and overwhelmed. In a moment of experiencing high levels of stress, you might feel your heart beat faster or feel your blood pressure rise.
But these are subtler, less visible ways that stress can affect you:
You can experience headaches for all kinds of reasons, from dehydration to significant brain tumors. So when you experience occasional, mild headaches that seem to come from nowhere, you might not think anything of them. If you live or work in a stressful environment, these headaches could be caused by the excessive stress you’re experiencing.
Irregular Bowel Movements
Did you know that stress can affect your poop? It’s true. Stress can influence your digestive system in many different ways, causing you digestive discomfort, influencing constipation, or making your bowel movements more or less frequent.
If you’re chronically stressed, you may also experience issues related to your sleep. You could have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, your sleep patterns may become inconsistent, or you may toss and turn during the night. You may even have exaggerated “stress dreams,” covering subjects related to your waking stressors.
Even if you’re not feeling particularly stressed in the moment, you may have more difficulty concentrating if you live a stressful life. All the little stressors that accumulate around you can make it harder for you to focus on what’s in front of you.
Mood swings can happen for a variety of reasons – and sometimes they happen for no reason at all. But sometimes, they happen because a person is exceptionally stressed. When you experience too much stress, you become less capable of monitoring and regulating your own emotions; it’s easy for you to get mad over little things or suddenly feel full of sadness.
Stress may also influence a person’s appetite. For some people, high levels of stress motivate overeating and binge eating. For others, periods of high stress lead to reduced eating and weight loss.
How to Reduce Stress on a Daily Basis
If you notice these stress byproducts accumulating in your own life, try using some of these strategies to reduce the stress you experience on a daily basis:
Identify (And Avoid) Your Stressors
Sometimes, stressors are easy to identify. If your boss yells at you on a daily basis, or if you consistently find yourself stuck in traffic on the way to work, you can easily see them for what they are. Other times, stressors are hard to identify. You may feel overwhelmed by coworkers who overshare with you, or feel the slow encroachment of your newest financial responsibilities over the course of months. It’s important to identify the factors that stress you out the most so you can avoid them however you can; sometimes, that means making requests of the people around you or changing your environment, but other times, you’re required to make a bigger change, like leaving your job.
Physical exercise remains one of the best ways to eliminate stress – and it helps you stay in shape at the same time. Make time to exercise every day, even if your workouts aren’t especially intense.
Mindfulness meditation calls you to focus on the present moment, rather than the past or future. It’s a way to clear distractions from your head and concentrate on what’s most important.
The simple act of laughing can make your stress melt away and help you feel better in any moment. Keep a playlist of funny videos or use websites and apps that consistently make you laugh; you can call upon these resources when you really need them.
Talk to People You Love
Talking to loved ones is another way to relieve stress. In a stressful environment, or if you feel your stress accumulating, make a call to a friend or family member.
Take Time for Yourself
Take an occasional vacation day and practice self-care!
Stress is something we all have to deal with, but it doesn’t have to control us. If we take the time and make the effort to practice these stress reduction habits, we can live a better, healthier, and less anxious life.