Believe it or not, stress is not the villain it's made out to be. In small, short-term doses, stress can give an athlete the competitive edge or a public speaker the enthusiasm to project optimally. It can even boost the immune system.
However, chronic stress over time—the kind commonly encountered in daily life, such as work overload, financial difficulties, marital problems—can have significant adverse effects on nearly every system of the body, suppressing the immune system and ultimately manifesting as an illness.
The danger occurs when stress becomes persistent and consistent, a way of life. Chronic stress raises the risk of viral infection and diabetes. It can trigger severe problems for asthmatics, lead to gastrointestinal issues and cause high blood pressure, which brings an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
To get a handle on this silent adversary, you want first to recognize that you are chronically stressed. Here are four kinds of warning signs:
Cognitive symptoms include problems with memory, an inability to focus, or feeling worried or negative all the time.
Emotional symptoms can include feeling moody, lonely, overwhelmed, unhappy or depressed.
Physical symptoms might include constant aches and pains, nausea, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.
Behavioral symptoms might range from severe changes in sleeping or eating patterns to turning to bad coping habits such as smoking or drinking.
Your ability to successfully navigate stress depends on factors such as quality of relationships, general outlook on life, and emotional fitness. Nevertheless, the impact of stress accumulates. Just because you appear to tolerate stress well now doesn't mean it won't sneak up on you later.
Besides exercise, sleep, and healthy eating, here are a few other ways to help protect your health.
Seek activities or projects that make you feel good. For some, it's taking a bath, for others it's racing three-wheelers. Determine what's important to you and create a lifestyle that embraces and supports you.
Strive for empowered thinking. While you can't necessarily control a system, another person's behavior or others' impressions of you, you are always in control of your thoughts, actions, values, and choices.
Enjoy yourself more. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Find the places, people and circumstances that authentically bring you delight, and insist on giving them a place in your life. Increasing joy can add years to your life.
A small amount of stress isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, when it's constant and negative, our minds and bodies can pay a hefty price. Chronic stress prevention indeed is the best medicine.
Rattue, G. (2012, June 28). "How Stress Helps The Immune System." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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