How Stress and Worrying Affect Your Body
Everyone worries from time to time. Whether we’re running late for an appointment, caring for a sick child or struggling to figure out how to handle a major financial crisis, stress and worrying are natural and unavoidable parts of life. However, everyday worrying can sometimes spiral out of control, triggering anxiety and other mental health issues along with a variety of stress physical effects.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
When we think of stress symptoms, what’s likely to come to mind are anxiety, panic attacks and other behavioral symptoms. Anxiety disorders go well past typical worrying and cause those who suffer with them to have extreme reactions to stressors. For this reason, conditions like generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety can greatly interfere with daily activities.
Excessive worry and stress can also trigger depression, irritability and panic attacks, during which the body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered by everyday stressors.
When chronic stress and anxiety are not well managed, physical symptoms can pop up, as well.
Stress Physical Effects
When stress, worrying and anxiety become chronic, the body experiences a release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can physically affect the body. High cortisol levels can cause physical stress symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, heart palpitations, fatigue, insomnia, low libido, breathing problems, muscle aches and even high blood pressure. Many of these stress physical effects happen during panic attacks, while others can become chronic physical side effects of stress.
High levels of cortisol can also increase blood sugar and increase triglycerides, which can trigger serious chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease if it becomes chronic.
Though we can’t avoid all stress, we can take action at the first signs of stress to manage it. While stress management can incorporate professional help, there is also a lot you can do yourself every day, including:
Get exercise. A regular exercise regimen can help improve your overall health, including your immune system, and release endorphins to help you combat the effects of stress.
Eat right. A healthy, balanced diet that incorporates mindful eating and viewing food as fuel for the body can help you avoid unhealthy foods that can actually add to your stress.
Practice relaxation. Take time each day to treat yourself to some quiet relaxation, whether with meditation, soothing music, a hobby you enjoy, or a stroll through nature.
Journal. Putting your thoughts down on paper – or into a device – can help you thoroughly think through the worries that trouble you and give you the opportunity to put them into perspective. It’s also a great way to track your progress as you practice other stress management strategies.
Seek social support. Friends and family who care about your well-being can provide a great system of support to help you through your times of worry.
Get professional help. Start by asking your primary care physician for help with what you’re experiencing. You may be referred to a specialist who can treat your symptoms or to a counselor who can help you learn how to better cope with stressors, identify root causes and navigate your way through them.
When To Seek Help Right Away
While worry itself is not an emergency, chronic stress can create emergency health crises, from a depressive episode that inspires thoughts of suicide to a heart attack brought on by years of worry and lack of self-care. If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing such a health crisis, come to Avail Hospital right away. We can treat the emergency and direct you to the help you need to live more fully every day.