From juggling work, the kids being either in school, remote, or a hybrid approach where they’re home one day and in class another, paired with having to do extra tasks around the house, and not even talking about maintaining your own relationship with your partner, life in the time of a pandemic is stressful.
All that stress can be bad for your health. Both your physical and mental wellbeing can become impacted, and sorry, all the cabernet in Napa can’t help. It may feel like it helps, but, well, it helps a little, right?
The list of the physical toll that stress can take on your body is a long one, and it can be just as damaging to your brain as it is on your body. Anyone that has experienced long-term stress knows the toll it can wreak on you.
I know everyone feels a little overwhelmed or exhausted, irritable, and grumpy sometimes. But over a period of time, those feelings are symptoms of stress and can weigh on you both physically and mentally.
Stress Symptoms or Something Else?
Stress hormones such as cortisol are your body’s way to stimulate you and is part of the “fight or flight” process to handle dangerous situations. But prolonged stress hormones can have severe adverse effects on your body, brain, and mood. Some symptoms of prolonged stress include:
- Headaches: Stress can increase and intensify headaches
- Increased Blood Pressure: Long-term stress can increase blood pressure and can lead to long-term issues associated with higher blood pressure
- Cardiovascular Damage: With increased blood pressure, the strain on the cardiovascular system and heart can have lasting effects
- Chest Pain and Heartburn: Tightness in the chest and heartburn are produced as a by-product of high levels of stress and mirror similar symptoms of a heart attack
- Difficulty Breathing: Stress forces the diaphragm and other breathing muscles to tighten, leaving you short of breath and mirroring symptoms of severe respiratory problems like those associated with pneumonia or COVID-19
- Weakened Immune System: Long-term stress can lower your body’s immune system leaving you more susceptible to injury and disease
- Insomnia: Difficulty to fall asleep and have deep, restful REM sleep is a symptom of long-term stress
- Increased Risk of Depression: Combined with the lack of sleep that long-term stress may cause, it can also impact your hormonal balance and lead to exhaustion and an increased chance of depression
- Infrequent Menstrual Cycles: Stress can disrupt the natural cycle or even stop your menstruation altogether
- Fertility Function Issues: Stress can disrupt the fertility cycle of both men and women making it difficult to conceive
- Mental Function and Mood: Long-term stress can impact sleep and affect mood, but also can impair normal brain function like memory and reasoning
How do we manage or relieve stress, especially balancing so many activities and demands on our day?
What You Can Do To Reduce Stress
Exercise, rest, diet, and in some cases, consulting with a therapist.
If you believe that you have some of the above symptoms but don’t feel it’s stress-related, you could be fighting off a virus or some other disease. You can consult your primary care physician, and if you believe that your symptoms match those of COVID-19, you can also request a test, whether administered at the doctor’s, or you can purchase a coronavirus test kit.
Every day you should be doing some form of physical activity. I know, I know, there’s just not that much time in a day. But think about doing it before your day begins, after the kids go to sleep, or find a way to talk with your partner about the need to have one or two pockets of the day that you can dedicate to your health and wellbeing.
Reducing your caffeine intake will help lower your anxiety levels as caffeine acts as a stimulant that can disrupt sleep and increase irritability. Caffeine consumption can have moderate health benefits but in excess can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to insomnia.
What we put into our bodies helps regulate our bodies. Sorry ladies, chocolate and wine, may be fine, but not the best way to reduce the effects of stress on our bodies. Eat foods high in potassium, such as avocados and bananas, as potassium helps lower blood pressure. Try fatty fish and swiss chard. The omega-3 fatty acids from fish help the body regulate temperature while the magnesium in swiss chard helps regulate cortisol, the stress hormone.