Are you feeling stressed and don’t even know it? Your body can have all kinds of reactions to stress that move beyond feeling adrenaline or anxiety.
Learning how stress affects the body can be a challenge because it can depend on how stressed you are and for how long. For example, research shows that low-to-moderate stress levels may be good for your ability to learn and apply knowledge. High stress, on the other hand, can negatively impact your working memory.
Much like how stress impacts your brain, short- and long-term stress can affect your body differently.
Daily stressors like forgetting to pay a bill or missing the bus to work tend to cause short-term, low-to-moderate stress on the body. Muscles may tense up, heart rate increases, and more oxygen goes into the lungs to help you prepare for the stressor. After the stressor passes, the body goes back to normal.
Short-term stress can also be “acute” if it involves an unexpected crisis, like a car accident. In these cases, the stress response may last for up to three days.
You’ll likely feel the same symptoms as you would for short-term, low-to-moderate stress, as well as:
• abdominal pain
• irritability or moodiness
• chest pain
• wanting to isolate
• sleep issues
• difficulty breathing
• trouble concentrating
Chronic, or long-term stressors, are things like financial issues or conflicts with family members. Your body will get stuck in overdrive in the fight-or-flight response and can not settle back down; it becomes continuously flooded with cortisol. This can lead to inflammation and increase the risk of disease,
Long-term stress can enhance the risk of:
• hypertension (high blood pressure)
• heart disease
• anxiety disorder
• type-2 diabetes
• metabolic syndrome
Thankfully, there are a host of ways to manage stress. One of them is spending more time in nature. Being around trees in parks, rivers, lakes, or oceans can help relieve stress. Research suggests that spending at least 120 minutes per week, or 2 hours, can elevate the sense of good health and well-being.
Other ways to manage stress include eating “the rainbow,” meaning having a diet high in colourful fruits and vegetables. Taking time to rest and unwind, logging off social and traditional media occasionally, and knowing when to ask for help, can also help take the load off.