Healthy Lifestyle

Is Stress Hurting Your Health?

Fight or flight

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but stress is a normal part of life. Stress is a normal physiologic reaction triggered by your brain to assist you in dealing with anything your mind perceives as a threat. 

It is a protective mechanism. In simple, it’s your brain’s way of deciphering it's “fight or flight” response.

Finding the peace

Stress is inevitable. As life becomes more demanding, there will always be a new “threat” for your brain to manage. Between these constant moments of fight or flight, your body and mind need to return to a peaceful relaxed baseline. However, in the nonstop lives we lead, we rarely get to stay at baseline for very long.

"The key to having control of stress isn’t just to avoid life, but rather find the best way to manage stress."

Dr. Lindsay Northam
Methodist Physicians Clinic internal medicine

Without stress management your body and mind can’t always find the way back to baseline and instead remains on alert. When that’s the case, even the smallest trigger can be perceived as a great threat to the system. 

In order to learn how to manage your stress you must first be able to identify what triggers it, and how it manifests itself in your day to day life. 

Identifying stressors

Stress comes in all forms and sneaks into our lives from every angle. Work commitments, deadlines, finances and personal conflicts are obvious stressors. But positive moments in our lives can also create just as much perceived threat as the negative moments. Getting married, buying a new house, raising a family are all very exciting and happy moments in our lives, but often create more stress than we realize. 

Stress responses

Each person manifests stress in a different way. There are five common stress responses most people experience at some point in their lives:

  • Distress: Feeling tense, anxious and worried. 
  • Deterioration: Stress in the work place is often intended to improve performance, but research has shown a stressful work environment can actually lead to performance deterioration. 
  • Conflict: When we take our stress out on others, it can lead to increased conflicts with co-workers, friends and family.
  • Addiction: People often turn to unhealthy habits and addictions in order to avoid dealing with stress. Smoking, overeating and alcohol abuse are some of the most common stress-response addictions.  
  • Somatization: Often times we have a physical response to stress, leading to elevated blood pressure, tension headaches, gastrointestinal complaints, muscle ache, generalized pain and fatigue.

Although we often think about mental repercussions of stress and tension, the physical ramifications are often overlooked. Chronic stress can lead to an increased risk of many physical conditions:

  • Cardiac: Palpitations, elevated blood pressure and elevated cholesterol
  • Gastrointestinal: Constipation or diarrhea, bloating, heartburn, indigestion and nausea
  • Musculoskeletal: Body aches, arthritis, weakness and imbalance
  • Psychological: Agitation, tearfulness, depression, anxiety, irritability, loss of concentration or errors in judgment, forgetfulness and substance abuse
  • Generalized: Dizziness, weight gain or loss, weakness, fatigue, insomnia, recurrent infections, migraines and bruxism (teeth grinding)

Taking steps to manage your stress

If you have identified that stress is an issue in your life, now is the time to solve it. In this article I identify eight ways you can reduce the stress in your life.

You can also speak with your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider for ways to manage the stressors making you unwell.

About the Author

Dr. Lindsay Northam is very passionate about patient care. In order to deliver exceptional care for people, she believes it is important to form strong patient relationships.

Dr. Northam believes that all patients should leave her clinic at Methodist Physicians Clinic feeling they were truly heard and respected.

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