Stress is part of modern life, and sometimes it can be a good thing. it gives you focus and motivation when you need to hit a deadline or perform at your best. But unmanaged or prolonged stress can take its toll on the body, causing unexpected aches, pains and other symptoms.
“Stress doesn’t necessarily cause certain conditions, but it can make the symptoms of those conditions worse,” says Richard Lang, Chairman of Preventive Medicine and Vice Chairman of the Wellness Institute. “When physical symptoms worsen, they may in turn increase a person’s level of stress, which results in a vicious circle.”
Stress can do some strange things to your body, affecting it in various places:
1. Muscles and joints
Stress lowers your threshold for pain, resulting in a tightness or soreness in your muscles, as well as spasms of pain. It can lead to flare-ups of symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia and other similar conditions.
2. Shoulders, head and jaw
Stress can trigger tension headaches, tightness in the neck and jaw, and knots and spasms in your neck and shoulders, also known as the “tension triangle”. It also may contribute to TMJ, a jaw disorder.
3. Skin and hair
Stress can also can lead to hives and itchiness, excessive sweating and even hair loss. Plus, if you have a current skin condition such as eczema, rosacea or psoriasis, stress can make it worse.
4. Heart and lungs
Diseases such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and asthma are aggravated by too much of the stress hormone cortisol, which may make heart and lung conditions worse. If you have pain or tightness in your chest or heart palpitations, see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out a serious condition.
5. Immune system
You need a strong immune system to fight disease, but stress weakens your body’s defences. It makes you more likely to catch colds or the flu, for example. It also may make autoimmune conditions such as lupus and inflammatory bowel disease worse.
As stress hormones shut down the digestive process, stress can be seen to impact the digestive system early on, from simpler symptoms such as pain, gas, diarrhoea and constipation to more complex conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux.
7. Mental health
Stress can bring on symptoms of depression and reduce your enthusiasm for activities you usually enjoy, from everyday hobbies to socialising. People also tend to eat poorly, craving sugar and processed foods, and exercise less when stressed, which only makes symptoms worse.
Feeling down in the dumps because of stress is not a personal failing. It happens to most of us, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make small changes to get yourself back on track such as:
Get moving – studies show that people who exercise daily have a better chance of beating depression and it also lowers the stress hormones in the body, so its win, win. It doesn’t have to be vigorous or expensive either, a simple walk, alone, with a friend or walking the dog can work just as well.
Fix your diet – A diet high in processed food, junk food and alcohol can lead to sluggishness, constipation and digestive orders, adding to your stress. Mindfully eating more vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nut and seeds will pay dividends to your health. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water too!
Make small lifestyle changes – learn to say “No”! Sometimes we bring stress on ourselves by taking too much on, and trying to keep everyone else happy. We then run around and forget to stop and take care of ourselves. Learn to say no occasionally, and spend some quality time giving yourself some TLC, like a hot a bath and an early night.