5 Ways Stress Affects Your Body & How to Fix It
Author - Alyssa Rimmer
Get in touch with yourself by learning these 5 simple ways stress affects your body and the tools you can use to fix it. Less stress means more optimal health!
This past week was a complete whirlwind for me. I had events, I had shoots, I was in and out of the apartment and that basically meant no work. So no time to work = stress city!
We have a trip planned in two weeks so I'm trying to get ahead with my content, I'm getting ready to website redesign which is requiring a lot of attention, all on top of the weekly workload I already put on myself.
So yes, I was stressed. Super duper stressed.
When something happens to make you stressed, or you just are stressed in general, stress hormones are released in your body. These are the same hormones that trigger the fight or flight response within your body. This is a really helpful response when you're in a TRULY stressful situation (like if you come across a bear on a hike or if a fire starts on your stovetop), but the problem is for many of us those stress hormones are being released all the time because we're in a constant state of stress.
What I found to be interesting last week, was how the stress was manifesting itself in my body. It wasn't just that general feeling of anxiety or pressure, there were clear physical signs that my body was showing me. Since I know that stress is a huge part of all of our lives, I thought it might be helpful to talk through some of the ways your body shows stress and give you a few tips for how to support yourself.
1. Stress Affects Your Mood
This first one is pretty obvious. I’d venture to guess that this is what most people associate with how stress feels. Stress = bad mood. Can you relate?
The major external effect most of us feel (and see) from stress is how it affects our mood. Everything from anxiety, not being able to focus, sadness, irritability, anger, lethargy… basically #allthefeels. Research has even shown that chronic stress can lead to or make some mood disorders worse. The effect stress has on our mood is real and serious!
2. Your Digestion
When you’re stressed, do you picture your body as being free-flowing and “loose” or more constricted and “tight” feeling? My body always feels constricted and surprise surprise, that affects digestion.
There are a few reasons why stress affects our digestive system:
- Stress can affect how food moves through the body which can result in either constipation or diarrhea. You’re also much more likely to experience heartburn and acid reflux when you’re stressed.
- Stress also has an effect on the food we crave and ultimately end up eating. When we’re stressed we’re much more likely to reach for convenience food – food that is overly processed, overly salted, full of crappy oils and ultimately really hard on your digestion.
So if you’re noticing that you feel a bit more bloated than normal, maybe gassier, or you’re having issues in the bathroom, that could be your body showing you it’s stressed and it’s time to take a break.
3. Energy Levels
Another thing that happens when your body releases stress hormones in a stressful situation is a glucose release. Your liver produces extra glucose to give your body a little energy boost to take on the stress!
Of course, this is what we want our body to do if it’s an acutely stressful situation (i.e. getting chased by a bear), but when you’re chronically stressed your body is constantly producing those hormones, sending you on an energy roller coaster. This cycle stays on repeat when your body is chronically stressed… super fun.
4. Mental Clarity
I feel like mental clarity and mood go hand in hand. When you’re stressed, your mind is almost always focused on the stress and the feelings that come with stress rather than the task at hand.
Think back to a time when you were racing around at a warp speed…did you feel focused and mentally clear? Likely not. The more common reaction to that is feeling frazzled and disorganized.
To top it off, stress can also trigger headaches. Or if you’re someone who already suffers from headaches, stress can make them worse. This makes it nearly impossible to have clarity and focus. This blog states that “stress is the #1 cause of mental clutter and inability to think clearly.” Yeah, no thanks.
Stress impacts sleep soooo much. If you struggle with sleep you know the struggle.is.real. I'm usually a fairly good sleeper, but if I have my whole day/week is thrown off when I can’t fall asleep or don’t sleep well throughout the week.
Studies have shown that stress negatively impacts the quality and quantity of sleep. So when you’re lying awake at night overthinking what you’re stressed about instead of sleeping, know you’re not alone. The dangerous thing about sleep and stress is the cycle that can be created: stress = less zzz’s = more stressed = less zzz’s… you get the picture.
Lack of sleep also a ripple effect on other areas of our life. When we aren't getting enough sleep, we aren't as motivated to move our bodies, our metabolism slows down, our food cravings are different, and the list goes on.
So if you're finding that your sleep is restless, you're having trouble falling or staying asleep, or you're just tired all the time, know that it's likely stress that's causing that!
Best Ways to Destress
Okay, okay. So know that you know what your body is telling you when it comes to stress, let's talk about ways to tackle it!
I shared a post a while back that talked about 10 ways to de-stress and chill, but let's dive into my top three faves right here. These are some really simple practices that can make a HUGE impact on how you handle your stress.
This is probably the easiest practice you can incorporate daily because you can do it literally anywhere and anytime. I’m going to dedicate an entire blog post to this, but taking a few deep breaths works wonders.
When’s the last time you took a deep breath? I’d be willing to bet that unless you’ve thought about taking a deep breath, you’re just going through life taking shallow breaths. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which is known as the ‘relaxation nerve’ and almost instantly helps your nervous system calm down.
2. Get outside.
Fresh air and sunshine are amazing for combatting stress. Nature is a powerful de-stressor and the best part about this is you just have to “be”. You don’t have to do anything, just “be” in nature. Easy peasy.
For me personally, this is the #1 health habit I am most grateful for. I make time to be outside (because of Trevi mostly) at least three times per day – in the park, surrounded by trees. I find that when I reconnect with nature, I’m able to bring myself back to reality, I disconnect from the stressors and enjoy breathing in fresh air and spending time with my happy pup. Such a game changer!
3. Phone a friend.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is call a friend, meet in person if possible, and just talk it out. When we have stressors swirling around in our brain it’s hard to think about anything else. Getting those thoughts OUT make a huge difference in my stress levels and for my soul.
Bonus points: laugh. Laughter releases endorphins which improve your mood and decrease stress hormones in your body!
The Bottom Line About Stress…
Here's the thing: stress is present in all of our lives in some capacity or another. There's no escaping it!
What I recommend is for you to start taking note of when you’re stressed, how that stress is manifesting in your body, and then making a conscious effort to incorporate some of our de-stressing practices into your daily routine!