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You’re sitting at your desk, on deadline, and you’re struggling to get through the assignment. As time runs down, you start to feel your heartbeat pound with more force, your breather might feel more constricted, hands getting sweaty. What you’re feeling is stress.

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to a threat or demand. When you feel stress, your central nervous system responds by releasing special hormones, like adrenaline, to give your body an emergency kickstart. Stress and the ability to combat it is natural.

Stress can help you in “fight or flight” situations. These scenarios, the stress hormones released by your body can give your body increased strength, stamina, reaction time, and improve focus. But we feel stress far more often than we find ourselves in life or death situations. It’s this repeated stress that causes stress to become less helpful and a more of a health problem.

How does stress affect your health and how can you alleviate your stress?

Why Too Much Stress is Bad For You

The difference between good and bad stress is difficult for your body to differentiate. Instead of being stuck under a car, you might be having a heated argument with your spouse, or planning an event for 2,000 people. To your body, these are all the same and will fight them the same way.

The chronic “fight or flight” response your body experiences on a daily basis is when stress becomes a concern for your health. It can increase your blood pressure, weaken your immune system, elevate the likelihood of a stroke or heart attack, and actually speed up the aging process.

Signs You Might Be Stressed

How can you tell if you suffer from chronic stress or just having a bad day? There are four quadrants of stress, each having their own symptoms. The more symptoms you can relate to, the more stress you’re under.

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional Symptoms

  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness

Physical Symptoms

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

3 Easy Methods to Managing Stress

There are things you can do in your daily life to manage your body’s stress levels. Here’s three easy steps to lowering your stress.

Build a Support Network

Humans need contact with one another. Isolation and loneliness are symptoms of stress. Just getting out of the house and talking with people can help alleviate your stress. It will also help you build a strong social network, which can help you through stressful times.

Exercise Regularly

Physical activity is a great stress reliever. It can help balance your nervous system and get back on track after too much stress. Thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, swimming, etc, and greatly reduce stress. But it can also improve your ability to deal with stress and distract your mind from the many thoughts causing the stress.

Eat a Healthy Diet

What you eat does affect your ability to manage stress. Processed foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates can exacerbate stress symptoms. Foods like fruits, vegetables, lean-protein, and healthy fats (Omega-3) can help your body cope with stress.

Stress is a natural phenomenon within your body. It’s meant to protect you, but that’s not always the case. If you feel like you’re stressed all the time, it might mean it’s time for changes in your life. Consult with a doctor and start making small steps toward alleviating your chronic stress.

Image Courtesy of Gudbjorn Valgeirsson

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