How Stress Impacts Mental and Physical Health

Aging well

The Stress Pandemic 

It should not come as a surprise that stress is the root cause of so many of the everyday aches and pains that humans of all ages experience. However, many people remain unaware of just how dangerous the long-term effects of high stress levels are – in some cases, triggering an onset of symptoms that can range anywhere between moderate to lethal.

But stress is near impossible to avoid, with recent studies suggesting that present generations are dealing with higher stress and anxiety levels than ever before. Things like social unrest, climate crisis – and more recently, a global pandemic – in addition to the strain of a struggling economy have all heartily contributed to a greater sense of anxiety and stress that all of us can unfortunately relate to.

At a time like this, educating ourselves and exploring accessible anti-stress measures is extremely important.

Stress Within the Body and Mind

Inside your physical body, stress has a different name: cortisol.  Cortisol is the stress hormone, responsible for all of the physical symptoms your body may experience when tolerating mild to severe levels of worry, tension, or trauma. Cortisol can trigger the following symptoms:

  • Tense muscles
  • Heartburn
  • Fertility issues
  • Rapid breathing
  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure

The source of almost all of these symptoms relate to the circulatory system. When blood is not being circulated efficiently, a myriad of unpleasant (and potentially dangerous) symptoms occur. Additionally, high stress levels can drive us towards unhealthy habits such as drug addiction, alcohol abuse and generally reckless behaviour. Long term exposure to abnormally high levels of cortisol can result in a heart attack, stroke, permanent reproductive damage and type 2 diabetes.

Stress can also cause a lot of mental suffering. Long term stress can negatively impact the way our brains produces grey and white matter (both integral to developing nerve cells and a healthy, functioning brain), which can make it harder to produce important neurochemicals like serotonin.

A lack of important neurochemicals and hormones can trigger mental illnesses such as depression, phobias, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Ways We Can Cope

Nobody is alone in the fight for manageable stress levels, and there are many methods for stress reduction that anyone can implement for a stronger, healthier, and calmer state of being.

Aside from actively avoiding unnecessary situations that you know may trigger a sense of panic, here are some of the most effective anti-stress techniques you can try:

  • Regular exercise
  • A balanced diet
  • 8 – 10 hours of sleep at night
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Reduced caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Consensual adult sexual activity

It is never too late to start incorporating healthy, anti-stress habits like playing at that facilitate the regulation of cortisol. Every hormone in your body is there for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they have to control your life.