There is no doubt that the current pandemic has drastically affected everyone’s stress levels. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and those that have retained employment are still feeling the strain from a global pandemic. Beyond the significant impact on the job market, even going to the grocery store requires a different process than any of us are used to. Our ordinary lives have been entirely upended, and our usual routines are no longer the same. There are nearly infinite reasons to be stressed right now, and feeling that stress is perfectly normal. However, dealing with stress can affect your physical health. Extreme and chronic stress will take a toll on your body, leading to new problems like sleep issues or candida overgrowth. The key to managing these stressful times is understanding how to listen to your body and take action to mitigate the adverse effects of stress.
Bodily Effects of Stress
Stress is something everyone will go through at some point, but most people don’t know how stress can affect their bodies. Excessive stress has been shown to lead to weight gain, sleep problems, digestional issues, body aches, mental health complications, and more undesirable maladies.
- Stress stimulates our bodies to seek comfort, which often includes foods high in fat and sugar, but studies have also shown that stress makes our bodies naturally burn fewer calories.
- Stress will commonly keep adults up at night or make falling back asleep even harder. Sleep deprivation is a domino that, once toppled, will affect even more parts of your well being. Not getting enough sleep will lead to impaired decision making, emotional control, and memory, all of which may increase your stress levels even more.
- Ulcers may not be primarily caused by stress, but stress can make you more susceptible to infections that cause ulcers. Stress impairs your immune system’s ability to fight off infections that cause ulcers and a smattering of other digestion issues.
- Researchers are not entirely sure why people who deal with elevated stress tend to have more body aches, specifically back, neck, and shoulder pains, but the current theory is that stress-induced inflammation prevents proper healing that would naturally fix body aches and pains.
- Depression and other mental illnesses can be triggered by stress because stress disrupts several neurotransmitters. Stress can lower your natural production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, leading to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, appetite, and more. Once depression takes hold, it can alter your brain’s chemistry even after you work through your depression and stress.
Recognizing The Source
When you notice you are stressed or stressed more than usual, the first step to managing stress is to recognize the source of your stress. There are likely multiple sources of stress during the current pandemic, but taking the time to identify and understand each one can help you manage your stress levels. Stop to list out what is causing you stress and determine if there is anything you can do to lower your stress.
Dealing With Stress
If there is something reasonable, you can do to lower your stress, do it. If there is nothing you can do to change what you are stressing about, work to let go of that worry. Worrying or stressing about things you cannot change is useless, but letting go of things you cannot change is easier said than done. Grounding techniques pioneered in DBT therapy can be particularly helpful in letting go of unhelpful stress. If you find managing stress on your own is not enough, reach out to a talk therapist for personalized help. Most talk therapists have moved to telehealth and are taking new patients. Even if you don’t continue talk therapy for the long term, learning new methods for managing stress and emotions is always beneficial.
Outside of directly addressing what is causing your stress and working on letting go of unhelpful worries, there are many things you can do to help your body fight the adverse effects of stress. Taking a long bubble bath, watching your favorite movie, eating your favorite meal, or talking about life with a friend can release some of your stress. Self-care is critical to managing stress, so don’t be afraid to indulge to maintain your mental and physical health.
We are in unprecedented, uncertain stressful times. Everyone is dealing with more stress than average, and you should take steps to manage your stress for the sake of your bodily and mental health. If you notice your body changing as your stress level increases, take active steps to manage your stress with mindfulness and self-care.