Stress and Anxiety…It’s Not Just in Your Head - Women's Excellence

Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States. An estimated 264 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder.  Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

Anxiety and stress are known to cause physical symptoms along with mental strain. Think about a time when you felt anxious. Maybe your hands were sweaty, or your legs were shaky. Your heart rate might have sped up. You could have felt sick to your stomach. 

Here are other ways in which stress can show itself physically:

Digestive problems

  • If you feel gurgles in your gut whenever you’re anxious or upset, you’re not alone; the digestive system can be very sensitive to stress and other emotions. Stress can also have a serious effect on your gut health. Research published in Frontiers in Microbiology in 2017 found that stress can damage the microbiome that helps the gut function, though the effects of stress can differ widely from person to person. Everybody from indigestion, nausea, and vomiting to constipation can be traced to stress and its effect on the gut.

Sleep problems

  • Stress impairs sleep because it makes us alert and panicky, damaging our ability to relax and get refreshing rest.

Heart disease and stroke

  • Stress can put a lot of pressure on the heart; when you’re stressed, your heart pumps harder to distribute blood to make sure you’re prepared to deal with threats, and that can cause long-term damage over time. Being stressed is a risk factor for poorer heart health overall, with stressed people more likely to show symptoms of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and other heart issues over the course of their lifetimes.

Weakened immune system

  • Chronic stress can damage your body’s defenses against viruses and infections. A review of the effects of stress on the body published in EXCLI Journal in 2017 found that studies have linked stress to poor immune system function, in part because when you’re stressed, your body changes the way it secretes hormones that help the immune system. This can lead to something called chronic immune activation, in which your immune system overreacts and starts to attack healthy cells instead of threatening ones.  It can also mean your body becomes more vulnerable to illness and recovers more slowly from diseases and infections.

Other symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • High blood pressure

What can you do about stress and anxiety?

First, it is always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider about ways to manage your stress and anxiety.  They have many resources and treatment options to help you.

Here are some things you can do right away to alleviate your stress:

  • Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
  • Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
  • Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
  • Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
  • Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
  • Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
  • Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which is not possible, be proud of however close you get.
  • Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it as bad as you think?
  • Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you are feeling stressed or anxious and look for a pattern.
  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you are feeling overwhelmed and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.

SOURCES

  • The American institute of stress

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