Everyone experiences stress at some point. Your body’s response to stress is helpful in many situations such as avoiding injury, keeping your energy high to meet a deadline, or waking up enough to take care of your baby in the middle of the night. However, when your stress lasts weeks or months, it becomes chronic and is extremely harmful to your body. Unfortunately, many people in our society continually live in high-stress conditions and have the health symptoms to prove it. If you live with chronic stress, the impact on your health can be minimized by recognizing your symptoms and taking steps to manage your stress and the way you respond to stressful events.
What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
This may seem easy to figure out, but there are actually many different types of problems that can be caused by stress. WebMD provides this list of common signs and symptoms of stress.
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
Physical symptoms of stress include:
Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
Aches, pains, and tense muscles
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Frequent colds and infections
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
Forgetfulness and disorganization
Inability to focus
Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
Behavioral symptoms of stress include:
Changes in appetite -- either not eating or eating too much
Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail-biting, fidgeting, and pacing
What long-term impact does stress have on your health?
Chronic stress negatively influences your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infection and leading to higher levels of inflammation. Once inflammation becomes chronic, it may cause inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and psoriasis. Chronic stress can also worsen existing health problems.
Over time, chronic stress can lead to diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal problems, acne, psoriasis, eczema, permanent hair loss, menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction in men and women, mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and cardiovascular disease which includes high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
How can you manage stress?
The good news is that there are many ways to manage stress. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol, and illegal substances. Spending time with friends and family, keeping a sense of humor, setting aside time for hobbies, and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, prayer and meditation, journaling, yoga, tai chi, massage, and enjoying time in nature are excellent strategies for alleviating stress.
Time in Nature
Interestingly, the scientific community has recently begun researching the health effects of spending more time in nature and are finding that the benefits are even greater than previously believed. Forest Bathing and Earthing are two techniques getting more publicity these days, with good reason.
Earthing, sometimes referred to as grounding, is the practice of maintaining direct physical contact with the electrons on the Earth’s surface. It may include walking barefoot outside, sitting or lying directly on the ground, or “sitting, working, or sleeping indoors connected to conductive systems that transfer the Earth's electrons from the ground into the body” (1).
The idea behind earthing is that the human body runs on electrical current. Your heartbeat, brain, and neurotransmitters rely on electrical signals to function, and every cell in your body has an electric charge and conducts an electric current. Skin acts like a conductor, bringing free electrons from the earth’s surface into your body. This can help stabilize your internal bioelectrical environment which is important in the healthy functioning of its systems.